Sam Penix, owner of Everyman Espresso, has caused a stir in the coffee world. The latte artist has two stores in Manhattan where everyone from nobility to the common man can get their fix. In a land with Starbucks on every corner, I interview one of NY’s best-known baristas on rising to the top in such a competitive market. Whether you’re an espresso connoisseur or just an average Joe who likes a good cup o’ Joe, you won’t find better coffee or vibes than at Everyman Espresso. I ask the king of coffee how he got his start, the process behind opening the second location, and his favorite things about NYC.
LUCIE BEATRIX: How were you introduced to the coffee world?
SAM PENIX: I grew up in the service industry as my Mother was a waitress, a damn good one I might add, and so it was a natural progression to get a job at a coffee shop. While still living in my home town of Sarasota, FL I was hired at Metro Coffee and Wine. That was where I was introduced to Counter Culture Coffee. It was the first time I realized that coffee had different levels of quality. Also, the first time I realized that the knowledge and skill of the barista had a huge effect on the final product. The idea that it wasn’t easy to brew a cup of coffee caught my attention.
What made you decide to open your own coffee shop?
I didn’t. Everyman had existed for a year on its own. I got a job there in 2008 and business was incredibly slow. The working partner at the time decided to walk away and the investor, my now-partner Jay Terrana, was left looking for someone to kick start the shlumpy Everyman into profitability. That person was me. I worked into my ownership stake and as the numbers hit certain marks I was rewarded with a percentage of ownership and Jay and I became partners.
How do you stay competitive with so many new coffee shops opening constantly?
I am a risk taker. I am not afraid to do the things that have never been attempted, but I am also in a position at the top of the industry where it’s my responsibility to look ahead.
Where does the name “Everyman” come from?
Everyman is a medieval play. We are located in an Off-Broadway playhouse called the Classic Stage Company.
What has been the most rewarding part about running the shops?
Creating a safe space for the patrons and the people that work there to enjoy something special and feel like they belong there.
What drove your decision to open a second location, and how in general do you decide to expand?
I wanted a shop that was all my own. One that I had built and designed from the ground up and didn’t have to share with another tenant. We don’t really know what our expansion plans are if any but we like to take it slow.
How did you meet one of your managers, partner-in-crime, barista extraordinaire Sam Lewontin?
We met at a latte art throw down in Seattle, Washington. When he moved to New York a few years later I kept my eye on him, and when it came time to open another shop I hired him with the allure that he would get to design a coffee shop with a innovative service model.
How do you describe the main differences between the two locations?
East Village is classic and the Soho shop is the innovator.
Besides serving damn fine coffee, the appeal of Everyman has a lot to do with the atmospheres at either location. What inspired you in creating the layouts at both shops?
I just wanted to create spaces that were fun to be in, both as a customer and a barista.
How did you find/choose Battenkill as your source for milk?
I decided to switch to Battenkill in 2009 after tasting my way through 4 or 5 dairies in the Northeast. It’s just so damn sweet and malty and goes great with coffee.
The lack of a menu hanging behind the counter is a unique trait of the store. Is this ever perplexing to first-time customers?
Yeah, but there is a menu, it’s just not oppressive — it’s like a cocktail menu. Customers are asked if they’d like to see a menu when they are greeted.
Who do you look up to?
Where do you see yourself in 25 years?
I’m not sure — I only make five-year plans.
When you aren’t bouncing between both shops, what do you do for fun around NYC?
I love living in New York — you never know what you are going to get into. Monday I ended up dancing with Bjork at a Dragshow.
Both locations play mad decent tunes. What is your favorite song right now?
Pour it up — Rihanna
What sort of advice do you have for anyone trying to start their own company?
Prepare yourself. It’s more work than you thought.
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