Small Business Survivors: Bushwick coffee shop builds community under lockdown

A look inside Drip Coffee Makers on Belvidere Street.
Nigel Price

Despite opening right before the city’s coronavirus shutdowns, a specialty Brooklyn coffee shop has built a community within its residential neighborhood amid the ongoing pandemic.

Nigel Price has always been a fan of pour-over coffee. He ran a coffee stand where he would move around the city selling manual pour-over coffee to New Yorkers on the street and at farmer’s markets. Over time, Price wanted to see if opening a physical location would be something that New Yorkers would be interested in.

“I wanted to do a proof of concept,” said Price. “The process of pour-over coffee and making coffee by the cup, [so I] wanted to see if it would catch on and if people would wait two-to-three minutes for their coffee.”

The concept isn’t new, he said, adding that it’s been done “for the past decade or so” in Asia, “but in New York City, it hasn’t really caught on.”

Still, Price hoped it would, and opened the first brick-and-mortar Drip Coffee Makers location on Belvidere Street on Jan. 20, 2020. The shop offers a variety of pour-over brews to sip on while you go about your morning, as well as packages of specialty coffee for purchase to bring home.

Unfortunately, like many businesses across the Five Boroughs, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Drip Coffee Makers to shift gears in March 2020.

“It was devastating in the sense of I spent 12 years preparing for this moment,” said Price. “Having to close, also navigating the thoughts of, ‘Am I able to and can I actually afford to stay open?’ — I attribute a lot of it to luck.”

When scouting locations, Price sought out areas that were not necessarily high-traffic sections of New York City. Price had the intention of building a clientele over time rather than relying on foot traffic, but with the shutdowns, Price began to question his call.

Nigel Price (left and right), owner and founder of Drip Coffee Makers.Nigel Price

However, with everyone working at home, people who lived near Price’s new shop would come by and grab a cup of coffee, which gave the business owner more of a drive to keep the Drip Coffee Makers going.

“A lot of people in the coffee industry in Manhattan or Brooklyn were struggling,” said Price. “Because my shop is in a residential area, I had people who quarantining who needed to get out. They would get coffee and chat for a little bit. Even if I wanted to close, I felt like I couldn’t — I felt like I had to be there.”

Throughout the summer, Price kept the store afloat by himself because he could not afford to hire a staff. Having worked 12-hour days, seven days a week for months, Price saw what his interactions with his customers meant to them during those months of uncertainty.

“From January to August, I couldn’t afford to hire a staff. I literally just had a conversation with someone who told me what the shop meant to her at the time,” said Price. “As exhausting as it was, I felt obligated to do it. It was an outlet, even if it was a short respite from reality or a coping mechanism. We would put those issues aside because this shop became more than coffee for people, it became a hub.”

And in creating a hub, Price said, he made personal relationships.

“I don’t work as much as I used to in the shop, but if I sit out there, they know me,” he said. “And it’s not just the typical coffee shop banter — I can recall if they got that job they wanted or if someone’s mom got better or if they have gotten over the death of a loved one.”

Business was steady enough for Price to pay the bills, but the coffee guru said he did not take much of a salary despite all of the hours he put in. Looking back — and despite everything, Price feels he opened at just the right time.

“If I had to speculate, the 12 years leading up to 2020 I probably could have opened a place a lot sooner if I took loans. Initially as difficult as it was to borrow money, I’m so glad they made it almost impossible to take a loan. I’d rather save the money, do it on my own, do it on a tight shoestring budget,” said Price. “That was the reason I was able to sustain during the pandemic. I couldn’t imagine paying loans and interest, and the predatory behavior at beginning of COVID, I don’t think we would have survived. I can come out on the other end because I didn’t have a heavy constraining budget, and I didn’t have to pay investors or bank loans.”

The outside of the shop.Nigel Price

Price now has a staff he can rely on to run the Bushwick shop, and there are plans to open another Brooklyn outpost this year. Though it’s hard to predict what the future of Drop Coffee Makers will look like, Price hopes to continue building his community slowly while taking on new opportunities as they arise.

“Not in a million years did I think I’d be as successful in an industry recognizing what I was trying to do,” said Price. “I’d like to take the next few years to slow down. I have no aspirations for x amount of stores by 2025. I would have been content with one shop, but so many opportunities presented themselves because of the community I created, there were a few things I couldn’t say no to.”

Drip Coffee Makers is located at 12 Belvidere Street in Brooklyn. For more information, visit www.dripcoffeenyc.com.

This story first appeared on AMNY.com.