Tugboat Tea Company brings coffee to Prospect Lefferts Gardens

Pour track record: Will this coffeeshop survive where others have failed?

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The debut of a new coffeeshop has ended Prospect Lefferts Gardens’ caffeine withdrawal — but that hasn’t stopped the jitters for the area’s long-suffering coffee snobs.

Tugboat Tea Company is the latest place to offer locally sourced java to residents of the slowly gentrifying community who are still yearning for a bit of cafe culture after several coffeeshops opened to much fanfare, then went belly up.

Neighbors were wowed by the crowds at the Flatbush Avenue shop on opening day earlier this month — but still feel a hint of trepidation about the new joint’s chances of survival.

“They were out of almost everything by the time we stopped by, which I would say is a good sign,” said coffee-loving Prospect Lefferts Gardens resident Rebecca Milestone.

“I hope they’re here to stay.”

Coffee lovers have reason to be wary: hipper options have opened in the neighborhood in the past 10 years, only to later close or change focus for reasons both benign and outright bizarre.

It’s a coffee crisis that has frustrated many including Kolawole “Kola” Olagundudu, a food industry veteran who founded Tugboat with Chad Casey, one of the co-owners of Public Assembly in Williamsburg.

But previous closures haven’t left Olagundudu with a cup-half-empty mentality.

“We’re not cursed,” he said. “I don’t see a hurdle in the distance that we’re not gong to be able to deal with.”

The perception of a curse, however, is hard to shake. The story, as members of the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Community Association tell it, starts with coffee shop K-Dog and Dunebuggy, a pioneer of gentrification that opened at Lincoln Road and Flatbush Avenue in 2006. But the owners couldn’t afford an updated lease that included additional utility costs, and shut the business down in late 2011.

From there, things get weirder: Blue Roost Petite Café kept neighbors buzzing on Flatbush Avenue at Maple Street from the fall of 2010 until December of 2011, when a ceiling collapse forced owner Linda Billings to put the business on hiatus. Billings managed to move Blue Roost to the old K-Dog and Dunebuggy spot, but missing a month of revenue hurt. Later, an investor pulled out of the venture Blue Roost shut down for good last summer.

Some addicts got their joe on Prospect Lefferts Gardens’ southern side, where Internet Coffee House operated with the unusual business strategy of offering both computer and caffeine fixes until last December, when it too gave up on java to focus full-time on technical support.

Many neighbors are optimistic that Tugboat will succeed where previous coffeehouses failed. But others weren’t so certain, citing unease with some of the managers of the buildings along Flatbush Avenue because of past infrastructure problems — like the Blue Roost ceiling collapse.

“That would be my one concern, quite honestly,” said Barbara Ann Rogers, a former Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association board member and a realtor.

Olagundudu said he has had no trouble with management so far, and that he has worked to keep the infrastructure of the building up to par.

Lingering concerns notwithstanding, coffee fanatics dare to hope that this time, a neighborhood perpetually described as “up-and-coming” might actually merit the term.

“When K-Dog opened, it was probably a bit premature because there weren’t the number of gentrifiers living here that there are now,” said Tim Thomas, who runs the revered neighborhood blog the Q at Parkside.

Times are changing, but should Tugboat sink, coffee-craving neighbors could settle with running on Dunkin’ — the neighborhood already has two of the donut depots.

Updated 5:38 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reader feedback

greg from Bed-Stuy says:
Long-suffering coffee snobs? 99% of New Yorkers were content to drink swill just up until a few years ago.
Jan. 14, 2013, 12:27 pm
Homey from Crooklyn says:
Don't be a lazy bastid, learn to brew a good cup at home.
It's not hard, duh...
Jan. 16, 2013, 5:07 pm
Bob Marvin from Prospect Lefferts Gardens says:
I wouldn't say that either K-Dog or Blue Roost "failed" in the sense that they weren't good coffee shops. K-Dog transformed their block of Lincoln Road from a place you walked through to get to the Subway, or Prospect Park, to the vibrant center of the neighborhood. They were always busy and only went out of business when their rent threatened to go up to an unsustainable level. Blue Roost was quite successful in their tiny original location (until the ceiling fell in on them), but was burdened from the start in their new location by the same unsustainable cost that had driven K-Dog out.

I've been in Tugboat almost every day since they opened and think they're doing everything right. Most tables are full much of the time and the place's small size, which I had anticipated being a problem, has actually improved Tugboat's "vibe" by encouraging sharing tables, leading to the sort of neighborhood camaraderie that had been K-Dog's most appealing feature.
Jan. 19, 2013, 9:52 am

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