Last fall, when El Beit went the way of Verb Cafe and closed on Bedford Avenue, we worried the seven-year-old coffee shop might give way to more artisinal soap. “That’s the thing,” former El Beit barista Chris Miller told us. “We found out that apparently some of the other offers [for the space] were a bunch of high-end boutiques. I think one was a glasses store and we were just like, ‘Yeah, because four isn’t enough, we need five separate high-end eye-glass stores, maybe another haberdashery and we’ll be all set– we can just start doing costumes every day.”
Clearly, some people (who aren’t hedge fund managers) still believe this section of the Burg still has its characters. Thanks to Miller and his partners Jon Reagan and Patrick Curry– all three employes of El Beit when the place closed– Beit will get a new lease on life when a new incarnation opens in the next week or so. “We just decided, ‘Oh hey, we always said we could run this place,'” Miller recalled. “‘Why don’t we actually do that?'”
When “Public Auction” signs abruptly appeared in the window of El Beit last November, following an October health inspection that led to the shop’s closure, it was all part of a general decline. “We had all worked here for the last year or so and watched it kind of slowly slide down the mismanagement hole,” Miller explained. But instead of fleeing for northern territories like a former Verb employee did when he opened Verb 2.0, Cafe Beit (they’re dropping the “El” with the second incarnation) is staying right where it always was, though with a brand new interior and other improvements throughout.
“Everything’s new– new lease, new permits– nothing’s connected to the previous owners,” said Miller, who is applying both his contractor experience and four years working in coffee. “I just really kind of dove into coffee culture and got the job [at El Beit] and kind of fell in love with the vibe,” he said. “What sucks as a barista is that often you’re listening to the same curated Top 40 hits and you’re serving fake espresso drinks where the lattes are 28 ounces with nine espresso shots, and cappuccinos are just this block of foam.” El Beit, he said, was different. “It was just like, ‘Oh cool, they’re real espresso drinks and people actually care about the coffee and people are into good music and want to talk about it,'” he recalled. “That’s when I really sunk my teeth into it.”
What attracted us to the construction site was the sandwich board propped up out front that declares, “100 percent Barista owned, DIY constructed, serving locally roasted coffee!” But what does that actually mean for the new Beit, besides appealing to a customer base seeking authentic, Ye Olde Wilhelmsburgh vibes?
“We have a much closer relationship with our roasters now,” Miller explained of Beit’s partnership with a new small-time roaster called Spectrum that, “like most new roasters,” preps its beans inside the Pulley Collective, an operation based in Red Hook where they can share expensive equipment. “Hopefully we’re creating a new way of approaching coffee in that we get to have a bit more control, and more of a direct relationship to the point where we can be like, ‘Hey, we want more of this note in a flavor,’ and we can ask to roast towards that– there’s a lot more communication.”
The idea is to keep things really “coffee-focused” (though pastries and small snacks will be available) but rest assured the place will still be a chill hangout. “Really for us, a lot of it was about saving the mini-landmark that El Beit became– it was the place where you could always get a good cup of coffee, and it wasn’t a hyper-produced environment,” Miller said. “We know all our regulars, and we’re trying to keep it very much the neighborhood cafe– not to do the Cheers thing– but where everybody knows your name, more or less.”
Beit was always a place where patrons could get some work done without feeling too guilty (within reason, of course– there was usually a suggested time limit for laptop users, i.e. time was up at jerk o’clock). But Miller suggested that the new place would have a more liberal policy when it came to freelancer and student types. “We encourage people, if this is going to be your second office, cool,” he explained. “Let’s hang out everyday and do your work. And let’s get caffeinated.”
One of the major goals down the line is to restore Beit as a “place where a lot of different weekly or monthly events happened,” Miller said. “We’d like to do screenings in the back and stuff, probably some open mic events. We’d just like to make it a community space again, because there are just so many people in the neighborhood who are involved in so much.”