Park Slope Serves Coffee Roasted in … Staten Island?

From emu-egg mayonnaise to beard oil, the Brooklyn brand runs rampant in this city.

So imagine my surprise when, walking through the epicenter of it all last Sunday, Park Slope, I saw this sign outside of a cafe on 7th Avenue

Cocoa Bar

The proprietors of Cocoa Bar have apparently looked beyond their neighborhood to serve coffee roasted a good 13 miles—but really another world—away in Mariners Harbor, Staten Island.

Here’s a bit of history from Unique Coffee’s website:

In September of 1995 [James] Ferrara incorporated Unique Coffee Inc. Starting in the garage of his home with the help of his father Al and wife Toni; they started the business. It was a lot of work, not having a roaster in his garage Ferrara’s first account was a gentleman in Brooklyn who had a small shop roaster that he rented time on. He would buy his green coffee; pick it up at the pier; drive it to Brooklyn; roast it; bring it back to Staten Island; package it; load the van; and deliver it the next day all while doing his own sales while on the route.

At the time he was using his and his father’s garage along with their first Dodge van as storage; he then realized that it was time to move into a warehouse.

Unique Coffee moved into their first warehouse in the Mariner’s Harbor section of Staten Island in 1997 which is where they purchased their 60 kilo roaster and believed that they would never grow out of the then very large space.

While providing New York City with the finest coffee the business grew to a point where they again needed to find more space. In late 2000 Unique Coffee began the move to their current manufacturing facility and corporate offices where they operate today.

That current office is at 3075 Richmond Terrace in Staten Island. According to this article in DNAinfo New York,

Unique Coffee typically roasts 8,000 to 12,000 pounds of coffee during an eight-hour shift. They bag it by hand, then sell it  from their website and in 4,000 retail stores around the country, including Stop & Shop, T.J. Maxx, Bed Bath and Beyond, Marshalls and Homegoods.

Their beans can also be bought from 350 stores in Canada, 17 countries in Scandinavia and recently Korea and China.

In addition to coffee under the Unique label, the roaster grinds private-label java for several supermarkets and gourmet shops in Manhattan. They also sell coffee to several local shops, including Royal Crown Bakery in South Beach and Pasticceria Bruno in West Brighton.

Who knew that coffee roasted in Mariners Harbor was shipped around the world—and across the Narrows?

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The Great Gatsby and the Valley of Ashes

If you haven’t yet seen Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby—go see it now. Besides being based on one of my favorite novels, the film also shows some great images of old New York, from the Queensboro Bridge to the Plaza Hotel.

Not everything, however, is glitz and glamour in this Jazz Age film. Halfway between the grand estates of Long Island and the vibrant energy of Manhattan lies the Valley of Ashes. I had read The Great Gatsby six times while attending high school and college in San Diego (and I re-read last weekend the same paperback version that I bought as a freshman in high school). To me, a non-New Yorker at the time, the Valley of Ashes was powerfully symbolic, a setting F. Scott Fitzgerald created to characterize George Wilson—and many of the novel’s other characters. This bleak, gray place symbolized death and unchanging fate. From dust we were made, and to dust we shall return.

Little did I know then that the Valley of Ashes was a real place, the dumping ground of the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company from 1909 through the 1930s. As City Journal explains in a 21-year-old article,

Since oil as a domestic heating fuel was virtually unknown in the 1920s, ashes were produced in vast quantities by the coal-fired burners in practically all the buildings of the city. At that time, the city’s own dumping grounds were insufficient, so it paid private operators, including the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company, for the privilege of dumping on their property.

In an ironic twist, the Valley of Ashes, the symbol of death and unchanging fate, was in fact transformed. With the help of Robert Moses, the dumping grounds were cleared, and Flushing Meadows Corona Park was created, home to the 1939-40 and 1964-65 Worlds Fairs.

As City Journal concluded,

The valley of ashes lives on only in literature. Few who spread their blankets under the trees of Flushing Meadows or play soccer on its fields are aware that they are enjoying themselves on the grounds of Fitzgerald’s wasteland. Instead of a barren wilderness, parkgoers find something closer to the haunting image at the book’s close, “a fresh green breast of the New World” that flowers for generations of New Yorkers to come.

Just as he transformed almost every corner of this city, for better or worse, Robert Moses helped change the Valley of Ashes into the home of Citi Field, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the Queens Museum of Art.

For images of the Valley of Ashes as it once was, check out this CUNY site.

Finally, if you’re a big Gatsby fan as I am, you might enjoy these links that I posted to I Happen to Like New York’s Facebook page over the last week:

The Real Life Towns that Inspired The Great Gatsby

Mapping the 1920s New York City of The Great Gatsby

Recipe for a Gin Rickey