Off the Bridge Coffee is ready to tend to your caffeine craving and your flat tire all in one handy stop.In Chinatown, two blocks from the Bowery,
Qian Hu, formerly an owner of Lower East Side cycling hub Dah Shop, aims to be the go-to guy for the steady stream of cyclists pedaling on and off the Manhattan Bridge each day. From inside his shop, which opened on the corner of Canal and Forsyth earlier this week, there’s no clearer line of sight for watching bikers commuting to and from Brooklyn.
Hu’s passion for coffee is apparent as soon as he takes an order; he’ll ask you how you like your coffee, then pour you a little sip of unaltered brew to try just in case you change your mind. The iced cold brew is so naturally sweet and lacking in any hint of bitterness that you’re like to opt out on the cream and sugar. The beans are provided by Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, which has its headquarters based in the Flatiron District and a roasting plant upstate where every batch of beans for Off the Bridge is specially roasted to order. Hu is starting off with the basics–cold brew, single origin drip coffee, and espresso–but he plans to take classes so he can branch out into more complicated drinks.
Hu grew up in California and got his start in the bike world working for renowned shop Chain Reaction in 1989. He moved to New York in 1996 to earn his degree in photography from Pratt Institute. “I started commuting by bike and working in bike retail in New York City in 2000,” he explained. “Back then, even when the weather was nice I’d see only two or three people riding on the Manhattan Bridge, but now in the middle of winter, as long as it’s clean and people aren’t getting wet, it’s likes ants going up the hill.”
Multiple transit strikes, the increase in public transportation fares, and of course gentrification have played the biggest roles in popularizing biking in New York City, according to Hu. “People move in from different parts of the country who like to ride bikes, and then people are moving farther away from major subways lines, so in order to get to work on time they have find other ways to commute,” he said.
Though he’s no stranger to extreme biking (in January 2014 he embarked on a three-month cross-country trip from New York to San Francisco, encountering several snowstorms), he says the purpose of Off the Bridge is to offer repairs, parts and accessories to the commuters who ride by every day on their way to work. The other day, he said, he chased a woman down the sidewalk because he saw she was walking a bike with a flat tire.
Contrary to what one might think, Hu isn’t necessarily placing more emphasis on the bike repair than the coffee. During the three-month renovation of the former bubble tea shop he built the coffee counter himself, and when hiring his two to four future employees he’d “rather have people who can do the coffee, or are open to things,” than people entrenched in the bike world. “The bike culture in New York is funny,” he explained, adding that he prefers to teach a novices how to repair bikes correctly, from scratch. “Riding a bike in New York gives people an ego trip, and this is very important. This can get someone hurt if you do it wrong.”
The coffee shop will have parties from Amy’s Bakery, and Hu also plans to feature a rotating selection of artisanal foods like ice cream and chocolate. In the evenings he hopes to use the space to host special events.
Off the Bridge Coffee is now open at 105 Canal Street from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.