Over the past few years, it’s safe to say that the topic of Jenny’s Fantasy Coffee Shop has come up in conversation with my friends and neighbors at least once a day every day. Even as I type this, I can feel a giant collective eye-roll from my small town on the Hudson River where I’ve lived for a decade. Oh no, is Jenny talking about her coffee shop again?
Yes, in fact I am. (Deal with it!!) I know my professional drive might seem to point in the direction of food and book-writing, but sometimes I’ll walk by an old building in town with a “For Rent” side in the window and the vision overtakes me: A Hudson-River-themed Coffee Shop Collective. My friend Todd, the lawyer, would handle all the legal issues; Brian, the architect, would design the space; my friend Liz, the art consultant, would find all the historic Hudson maps for the walls; My media friends would curate readings and book events there every Thursday night; Andy would fetishize over the coffee and the name; my daughters could work the registers after school and weekends; and I would oversee everything, all while writing my next few books from the corner table beneath the exposed brick wall. It would be like one big yuppified Richard Scarry story.
I blame Molly Wizenberg for all this dreaming. Molly, if you don’t already know, writes the blog Orangette — one of the original food blogs, and also one of the best — and wrote the book A Homemade Life about the death of her father, a bon vivant who passed along, among other things, his great enthusiasm for food. Molly’s new book, Delancey, out this month and already a New York Times bestseller, tells the story of how she and her husband, Brandon, a musician studying for his Ph.D. and enthusiast of the highest order, decided to open a pizza place in what was then their not-yet-up-and-coming neighborhood in Seattle. This plan was hatched by Brandon, and it came on the heels of several other hatched-and-abandoned plans, including but not limited to: building a boat, designing violins, opening a Bi-Rite-style ice cream store in Seattle. Recognizing a pattern and not really believing the pizza vision would ever come to pass, Molly went along with the plan, and before long they opened Delancey. It was successful enough that a few years later they opened a place next door, Essex, to handle the queue and the spillover.
If I am to believe instagram (and my tidy summary) Molly’s life in the restaurant business seems like something out of a storybook. Oh look, there she is putting finishing touches on her next book at the marble two-top; there she is writing tonight’s homey-but-inspired menu on the chalkboard; there she is stopping by Delancey with her 2-year-old, June, to say hi to Brandon and her restaurant family. I imagine every night for her is like a giant dinner party. Trade the pizza for coffee, and Jenny for Molly, and it’s easy to see myself slipping into this kind of life.
I should know by now never to believe anything I see on instagram.
Breaking news! It’s really hard to open a restaurant (not to mention run it). Especially when you have no experience, you’re newly married, and you were never really sure how you got roped into it in the first place. “I wanted to be game,” Molly writes. “I wanted to surprise myself and Brandon. I’d read these dreamy magazine profiles of husband-wife teams in Brooklyn and San Francisco, and Paris, working together to build their artfully conceived boutique business, pickling vegetables or making cupcakes or running a tiny neighborhood restaurant that sat on the top of world domination…but I was a miserable wreck.” Hey, that sounds familiar.
I won’t give away the ending, but I will say this: Molly and Brandon earned their success the old fashioned way: they struggled for it. And what makes the story so readable — even if you are not the type to romanticize running your own small coffee shop furnished with mix-match flea market finds (cute, right?) — is that it doesn’t just chronicle the nuts and bolts of starting a restaurant. It’s as much about navigating a new marriage, figuring out what kind of life you want to make together and what roles you play in that life together. “I don’t want you to own a restaurant,” she blurted out one night, after it dawned on risk-averse Molly that this was really happening. Her interest in food, she writes, had always been “about sharing it — about the kitchen table, about home cooking, not restaurants. I like the intimacy, the quiet, the scale of home cooking.”
But passion is passion, and she was smart enough to recognize that it can be downright dangerous to stop someone in pursuit of a dream. For those of you out there looking for some inspiration to start making things happen (instead of talking about making things happen like yours truly) you will find a hero in Brandon, whether we’re talking pizza, coffee, or anything else.
Photo credits: New York Times (restaurant facade); Seattle Weekly (Molly & Brandon); Serious Eats (Pizza); and Molly Wizenberg (all others).
what an inspiring mini story! must get the book to read the details 🙂 thanks!
Oh I dream of having a neighborhood coffee shop too, I fantasize about the rotating menu and wonder what little things I should have to make the place appealing for mom’s with little ones. Some days I really really want to do it and others I get sad because I know I’ll never do it– but it’s nice to know I’m not alone in this!
I saw a review for Delancy on a Goodreads email and I immediately added Orangette to my feedly and added both books to my library list!
If you DO open a coffee shop, I’d love to stop by for a cup!
Loved reading this post: the intersection of two of my favorite blogs! Both you and Molly manage to produce consistently high-quality work (writing, recipes…). Thank you for that. Having moved recently from Westchester to the Midwest, I now also enjoy the nostalgia evoked by your mentioning the old haunts.
Your coffee shop idea sounds great! You better get moving on it before someone steals your idea!
I had the great pleasure of meeting Molly last week at a Boston-area book reading. She is just as humble and conversational in real life as she is in Orangette and her books. Now I need an excuse to cross the country to Seattle to eat at Delancey!
Can’t wait to read it! Your coffee shop sounds a lot like my bakery… sometimes walking down the street with my husband he’ll point out a for rent sign somewhere and say, “That would be a great spot for your bakery.” I’m enjoying the dreaming phase a little too much to move on to the doing-anything-about-it phase… and probably will be for years and years. 🙂
Christina: Have you read this?
I ordered Molly’s first book off of Amazon a couple of months ago and became such a fan of her writing and personality that I pre-ordered Delancey immediately. It appeals to anyone who has some secret ambitions of being a restauranteur. Mine is breakfast place. Anyway, it is such a great book, and much appreciated by those of us in the beginnings of marriages of very different people. And thank you so much, for linking to The Fault in Our Stars the other day! Such a great story.
My husband and I talk all the time about opening a place. Our area is lacking in all things interesting as far as food is concerned. I’ll meet you in the middle and we can open the shop together…
I am halfway through this book and I might just cancel tomorrow so I can finish it. SUCH a good read. 😀
I just finished a homemade life. I loved it. I cannot wait to get my hands on the new one.
I absolutely loved this. There is a town in Logan, Montana with the most fabulous steak house in the world – like really, it’s one of those old fashioned diner places where you get carrots and celery to start and the ribeye is something ridiculous like $19.95 but it’s the best ribeye you’ll ever eat. Anyway, next to the diner in this sketchy town there is an abandoned church that is the most beautiful thing to me….that is where I have my dreams of opening a cafe….or bakery….or combo of the two 😉 The pic is the first in this post, should you have the time!
Your coffee shop does sound cute. You should go for it – I recently quit my corporate job to become a midwife. There’s never a good time, but now is always a better time than never!
Your coffee shop sounds amazing, as does Molly’s new book. I loved A Homemade Life and have Delancey on my to-read list.
Love the coffee shop idea. Lately mine has been a yoga/pilates studio with an ocean breeze in the Caribbean (or perhaps in Vermont on acres of land with views of the mountains), with a juice bar.
Thanks for the recommendation; I just took this out of our library and am looking forward to devouring it this weekend.
Jenny! I love the sound of your coffee shop. DO IT! (DON’T DO IT!)
Thank you so much, friend.