From the interior design aesthetic to the straightforward menu, Gasoline Alley Coffee has a clear focus: Keep it simple and excellent, consistently and without compromise. From the unforgettable coffee, to the friendly staff and service, it is easy to see why there is a constant wave of customers entering from either side of the shop, be it to grab a quick coffee to go, to sit and people watch from the large street-facing glass windows or to take time to enjoy the company of a friend.
The interconnectivity that is evident the moment you walk into Gasoline Alley Coffee unsurprisingly extends to where and how the coffee beans are chosen. The coffee shop has partnered with Intelligentsia to obtain the highest quality, ethically sourced beans. Additionally, Nick and Neville take trips to some of the origin farms to meet and work with the farmers whose beans they brew, and to never stop learning about the subject that they unabashedly love.
Mood of Living: Q&A
Mood of Living: How did you start your company? What inspired you?
Nick Carnevale: Neville and I met three years prior to launching our business, and I was ready to start a new lifestyle using the business skills I had attained. Neville and I both come from a background and history of family run businesses. With both of us living in the USA for a long period now, we decided to form a partnership and create a business in coffee drawing on our years of experience in retail, service and business.
MoL: What did you do?
NC: I was on the buying side within the clothing industry, so I learned a lot of business over 15-years working in both London and New York. My father has always been self-employed. We had espresso bars and restaurants in Italy, so the coffee business is definitely in my blood.
Neville Ross: We essentially took our passion for coffee, our passion for a sense of community, and turned it into a lucrative business idea. Nick had a specific design sense that was very attractive and I think my experience in retail as well also helped the business aspect of things. We just essentially joined forces to do this. We aren’t in it entirely for the money. We want to do it because it’s a passion of ours.
MoL: Amazing, that’s so inspiring
NR: A lot of people say that. You know, I actually question my sanity, but all-in-all, when I think about it, I don’t think I’d change it.
MoL: What makes your company unique? What makes yours different than the one down the street?
NC: Everything we wanted to achieve on paper is different when actually doing it for real. We realized location was key, so we searched and searched. We held off to find the right location. Finally, we found the right location. We put a hell of a lot of time and effort into the design, the aesthetic and the whole concept of the store being the street and the street being the store. We encourage a free flow of people walking by to soak up the vibe, it’s inviting. And then once they’re actually in the door, we complete their experience with friendly service and consistent quality.
MoL: Where do your coffee beans come from? What made you choose to partner with this vendor?
NC: We spend a lot of time deciding on who we were going to source our coffee from. It was an incredibly important decision. We don’t roast our own, so aligning ourselves with a great roaster was, of course, key. We chose a roaster that is up there as one of the best. There’s a movement with many new roasters emerging. We partnered with Intelligentsia, whose direct trade and quality of sourcing is of a very high level. We share similar ideals to them in striving towards excellence, and working with great quality coffee.
MoL: Do you engage in any social entrepreneurship, community outreach or partnership?
NR: A lot of the things that we do tie into sustainability. So we pay more for the cups that we use because we know that they are compostable, the nature of the business is “to-go”. We work with people that source coffee with integrity.
NC: We actually fly out to farms, and we’ve met the farmers. It’s mainly direct trade. Unfortunately, we have to absorb a lot of these costs sometimes, so financially, it does hurt us. We’re just not prepared to do it any other way. We just try our best. Something to add to that, we give away free coffee once a week from a single origin farmer, so this week we’ve featured a Guatemalan farmer. That’s a great opportunity for the customer to learn more about what we strive toward.
MoL: How do you tell your story more, to tell that journey?
NR: We try. Once, we actually had the privilege to have the farmer here. People could meet him, could drink the coffee, they could see the guy that has actually been growing it and could talk about his farm. I mean that’s about as direct trade as you can get. We’ve been to the co-ops in South America, we’ve been to the farms and we’ve seen how they work. They work so hard everyday.
MoL: When was the moment you realized your idea could work? How did you make that happen?
NR: (laughs) Well, when people saw us while we were actually building the store, they all thought we were crazy. They were like, “You have to sell more than just coffee. I mean you can’t just sell coffee.” No one besides us actually thought that it would work. We just really believed in it. We’re just about the coffee because that’s what we’re passionate about. Our passion has just carried us through all of this. And you know, people have reacted really well to it. We’ve just kept it simple – it’s just about the coffee. It’s not about anything else.
MoL: How are the customers’ senses engaged during his or her experience?
NR: We’ve tried to define the Gasoline Alley Coffee experience. This feeling that you have when you see our branding, when you walk in the door, when you see the design, when you see the chairs, it is a feeling. It is a real emotion. As an example, we spend so much time just on how our staff greet people, thanking people when they leave. Every little detail is important. Keeping this up and being consistent with this, that is really hard and a lot of work, but we do it anyway.
NC: Trying to be genuine with every encounter.
NR: And then the focus is on excellent coffee, serving everyone an excellent, consistent cup of coffee in a fast paced environment, consistently, with unapologetic enthusiasm and friendliness.
MoL: Does the café have a playlist? If not – what musical artists would you say epitomize your café?
NR: A quick insight, we do not have a playlist. A requirement that we have is that our staff has to bring their own music. It’s required of them to create the environment. Being a part of Gasoline Alley Coffee, it’s a lifestyle, it’s not just a job. You have to want to work here. You have to be passionate about coffee and understand what it’s all about.
“We’re just about the coffee because that’s what we’re passionate about. Our passion has just carried us through all of this.”
MoL: What advice can you give to other people that want to start their own business? Because you’ve done it, and it takes a lot of guts.
NR: Business decisions, software, sales by the hour, sales by the minute, what type of drinks that we’re making, what we’re selling, how we’re selling, when people are buying – things so that we can also tailor the ultimate experience to them, the customers. Every decision that we make, the result is focused on the customer’s experience. That’s the ultimate goal: How they are experiencing it.
NC: That’s our constant. You know we opened a second location. We can never compromise the customer experience, so it’s reminding ourselves simplistically what we stand for is achieving those high standards.
MoL: What is the future vision for the company?
NC: We want to continue to remain at the forefront of the industry, as well as maintain our personal passion for coffee and ensure sustainable and responsible growth. All whilst making excellent coffee.
MoL: What are some words of wisdom you live by?
NC: Lighten up. Don’t take stuff too seriously. When you stop enjoying it, it’s time to move on.
NR: Spend as much time outdoors as possible.
Photos courtesy of Intelligentsia
|325 Lafayette St New York, NY 10012||November 2011|
|154 Grand St New York, NY 10013||November 2013|
The sign outside Gasoline Alley Coffee
Photos by Joshua Pestka
Songs selected by Gasoline Alley Coffee barista