West Village Coffee Shop Keeps New Yorkers Grounded
Grounded Organic Coffee and Tea House on Jane St. in the West Village is coveted for much more than its tea and coffee. The bohemian space is an oasis for visual art, music, greenery, and most importantly for the people of New York City.
“When the owners originally opened the shop, they wanted a pretty chill vibe,” general manager Eric Anderson said. “The shop was a lot smaller, it was like half this size. It’s been open for 12 years now and it still has the same vibe that it did back then. The West Village used to be different, the shop preserves that a little.”
Founders Jenny and Mark Greenberg opened the shop in 2004, selling a wide variety of teas and fair trade coffee, as well as regular, vegan and gluten free baked goods made offsite by a Long Island company called This Chick Bakes. In 2006, they bought out the pottery studio that had been located behind the shop since its opening. When the studio moved out, Grounded knocked down the wall that separated the two businesses and incorporated the extra space.
For a shop that has over 500 yelp reviews raving about the ambiance, the honey bee latte and the giant peanut butter cups, Grounded manages to avoid feeling like a tourist attraction. On a Thursday at 11 a.m., it is decently crowded with two or three empty tables. Customers engage in quiet conversation or hunch over their laptops among the lamps and light fixtures, and tables and stools piled with overgrown potted plants.
“I really love the vibe and it’s close to my office, so I come here often,” said frequent customer Benjamin Murray. “The music isn’t too loud and it’s not distracting. It’s great if you’re having a meeting or a casual conversation over a table.”
Aside from its iconic décor and tasty food, the shop’s other claim to fame is its debut in the first season of the Comedy Central show, Broad City. In the episode, actor Abbi Jacobson’s character, Abbi Abrams, displays her art at the venue.
“The studio called us and they were looking for a space to film one segment of Broad City, and at that point it was just a YouTube series,” Anderson said. “They came and checked it out, took pictures of the whole place and said that it was a good fit for the show. So a few months later, they came and filmed the whole thing. They were filming at two in the morning, so after business hours.”
However, since the venue’s fame pre-dated the episode, and the flow of traffic remained fairly steady.
“We’re already pretty busy so it’s kind of hard to tell if it’s changed,” said Anderson, who has been working at Grounded for five and a half years. “We’ve definitely had some people that sought the place out because they saw it on the show.”
Jacobson’s art is the not the only kind that deserves recognition. Surrealist prints and paintings hang on almost every wall next to prices tags, and most of them range from $50–800.
“Most of it is former employees,” said Anderson. “It ends up being people that the boss knows or people that ended up working here. At least two of the artists went on to do art as a job and they wanted a gallery space, so we were happy to help them out.”
It isn’t uncommon for employees to use Grounded as an outlet for creative expression.
Grounded barista Laura Sisskin Fernandez, who is also a singer, songwriter and actor, created an open mic night called The Hang as an initiative to create more business there. The event has grown independently from Grounded, and now takes place at Threes Brewing in Gowanus. However, Sisskin said that it might soon return to Grounded.
“I actually started it when I first started writing music, I was just really shy and I didn’t feel like any place I was going to had a supportive safe environment,” said Sisskin of The Hang. “It’s something that’s been really nice with people coming together. Different skill levels, same passion. I’ve made a lot of friends through it, built my community of artists through it. What’s really important to me is a safe space and learning.”
Employees and customers alike consider Grounded to be a safe place to relax and discuss what they are passionate about. No matter where people come from, it always seems to feel like home. Performing artist Tara Lynn Steele feels tinges of her hometown in Georgia.
“I actually notice the plants more than I notice the art,” Steele said. “I like the greenery. It’s very nice, like organized chaos. It reminds me of the South where there’s this coffee shop that is very much like this, so I feel very comfortable here.”
One of the only significant complaints about Grounded, expressed by several yelp reviewers, is the 90 minute maximum seating limit in certain spots. Some reviewers complained that if they buy more food, their limit should be renewed. Others are more understanding.
“I personally have never had a problem with it, and I think it’s good because there have been times I’ve come and it’s been crowded and there’s been nowhere to sit, so I appreciate that they have that,” Murray said.
“I think it’s great because it’s an environment that lots of people enjoy. There are people everywhere, as you can see, so it’s convenient that they try to get people in and out,” Steele said.
For tourists and New Yorkers who are tired of cramming into tiny shops and getting out as soon possible, Grounded is a down-to-earth, A-rated café that is just different enough from their daily routines to be appealing.
“When I first came in it made me laugh,” journalist and Southern California native Brittany Naylor said. “When I think of New York, I think of the tall buildings and it’s very ‘city.’ This coffee shop makes me believe that they’re trying to reverse the city aspect. You can come in here feel like you’re separated from the world out there with the greenery. People here are also really nice. I like that a lot.”