With the opening of the first New York location of The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on 39th and Broadway, I thought it would be relevant to catch up with Jeffrey Srulowitz and Douglas Soclof. They are handling all the New York store openings and operations.
Douglas Soclof and Jeffrey Srulowitz
JZ: How did you get involved with The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf?
JS: We got involved many years ago. Part of my family is based on the West Coast. We had been working with the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for a very long time as their landlord. Through friendship and business affiliation we became close with them and became intrigued with the idea of expansion on the East Coast. Knowing the brand and the market we thought it would be a good fit. When we had this initial interest I reached out to Douglas who has experience in the hospitality industry and we embarked on this process.
DS: A lot of people think you just do it and open right away. We spent 18 months doing research and studying the market just so we would be able to open and deliver in the right way.
JZ: What is your food background?
DS: I founded and owned Dougie's for about 16 years and I sold it three years ago.
I actually, was working in real estate and I was perfectly happy. One night while I was living on the Upper West side I told my wife that I wanted to buy a restaurant. This was before cell phones. I went out and came home four hours later and I bought a restaurant. It's started out as a part-time thing for me but after a few weeks it became a bigger deal.
JZ: Is the store opening what you expected?
JS: It's what we hoped for and expected. What's nice to hear is how the passion for the brand is so alive and vibrant in New York. People seem to really appreciate it. That makes the whole task worth it.
JZ: Based on your opening experience with this store what have you learned about opening future locations?
DS: One positive thing is that from the time we signed the lease to when we opened it was only about three months. It was very quick. I was surprised at how quickly we were able to get everything done especially because so much of what's in the store is custom-made for us.
JS: We have our systems for opening down pretty solid. It all really depends on where we open next. The neighborhood and community that we go into will indicate how we localize. It's very important to what we do. We aren't cookie cutter and we don't open stores for the sake of opening stores.
JZ: Do you remember your first job?
JS: Right out of school I worked for the pro export trade commission in the Colombian Government. I was promoting trade in North America.
DS: Coming out of college I was a real estate broker renting stores to people.
JZ: How is the New York store different from the other locations?
DS: We added things to become a lot more New York like our bakery display. No other Coffee Bean has that type of display because we wanted a café kind of look and feel.
JS: The way the bakery counter is displayed is that we have some very conventional products mixed with more innovative items. It's an interesting mix and it's cool to see how customers react to certain things.
DS: New York is known for pretzels. One of our most popular items is a donut in the shape of a pretzel. People love it and we are getting calls about delivering it to people all over the city.
JZ: What would people be surprised to know about the NY Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf?
JS: We have a really robust food selection. People when they come in have been really surprised to see that we have such an expansive breakfast and lunch menu.
DS: Also, it's the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Coffee is just as important as tea and the tea is just as important as coffee. We have really good tea lattes and iced blended drinks. People are always surprised at all the different things we can do with tea. All of our teas are spectacular.
JZ: Do you love your job?
DS: Yes. Even when go home we never stop. We are always communicating and things are always coming up. It's a passion for what we do and who we work with.
JZ: How many stores are you planning for New York?
JS: We are taking it store-by-store .We don't have a store count. We try to open wherever we think the brand will be well received.
DS: We want to become part of the neighborhood. We will open where we can become part of the community.