“New York City is an incredibly big city, but it’s a lonely place,” Jack Mazzola, founder of Jack’s Stir Brew, tells the Coffee Club at NYU. In 2003, when the quaint cafe in the west village opened, Jack was hoping to create a sense of community. Not only did he want to run his own business, but he also wanted to create a safe space where the locals could feel “at home.” Thirteen years later, Jack’s Stir Brew epitomizes New York City as well as coziness, comfort, and great coffee. In an interview with the founder, the Coffee Club at NYU learns about the rich history of the cafe, the type of coffee brewed and its unique brewing method, what it means to create a community, and a few insights into the world of the Entrepreneur.
Can you tell us about the history of Jack’s Stir Brew? How did the cafe come about? What inspired you to open a cafe?
I had originally wanted to go into the entertainment industry. I loved theatre! However, I always had the spirit of the entrepreneur within me and a passion for coffee. Before I opened the cafe, I was tasting a lot of single-origin coffee. I was using a Mr. Coffee coffee maker--I would go back and forth from my apartment in Greenwich Village to Porto Rico Coffee Importers, and I essentially tried to make good coffee. No one was using pour-overs or the chemex during that time, but I had a French Press. I used that to brew my single-origins, and one time, I remember stirring all the different types of coffee as they were brewing, and I said, “oh my god!” I remembered my grandmother, who always stirred her Italian sauce for pasta with this giant wooden spoon. The entrepreneur spirit within me then wondered how to build a machine that stirs coffee. After this realization, I presented the idea to a dear friend of my dad’s, who was an engineer. He told me that I was on to something, and so he built me a prototype and we started stirring coffee!
Tell us a little bit about the type of coffee you use.
I sourced my coffee from South and Central America along with Sumatra. I wanted to come up with a proprietary blend, a stir brew roast. 16 years later, today, and we still have the consistency of the same coffee we had back in 2003. The cafe opened in September of 2003, but we received a patent in November, so right now we’re the only cafe in the world that can stir coffee for the next 25 years. Coffee needs to be prepared with integrity, love, and care, and I believe that that is what makes Jack’s Stir Brew special.
How did you manage to create a community within your cafe?
Community starts with authenticity. It starts with the community seed planted in good nurturing soil. It needs to evolve. This takes time. It starts with a meeting place, whether a bar or a restaurant, and now it’s a coffee shop, a place where we feel at home, an inviting place. Honestly, it is a process. It’s taken ten years and a wall filled with photos of the neighborhood to really show community. Community is when you have the local firemen coming in, when you can sit down at the table and have everyone talk rather than use their gadgets. The three guys sitting outside? I don’t know them, I don’t know if they have jobs, but they’re here everyday, sitting right outside. That’s community. In fact, an elderly lady once celebrated her 94th, 95th, 96th, and 97th birthdays here! Her name was Lorraine, and while I was building Jack’s, she would always pass by with her caretaker. Eventually, she came to Jack’s and did not want anything. However, I brought her a croissant and a black coffee, free of charge. Since then, she would come in to have her croissant and coffee. On her 97th birthday, my friends and I took her out of her nursing home and brought her to Jack’s. All she wanted was a lobster roll, a croissant, and a black coffee. We gave her just that. A few days later, the nursing home said she had passed, which just goes to show how fleeting life really is. In dedication to Lorraine, we made her a special drink called the “Lorraine’s Special.”
What’s your favorite drink on the menu/what do you suggest we try?
The Happy Jack, which is named after me. It’s basically a honey cinnamon latte, for when I’m feeling something really sweet. Typically my favorite is the black coffee!
Describe your cafe in three words.
Eclectic, Familiar, Quality
Any advice you’d like to give someone who is opening their own business?
Entertain any conversation with anyone to build connections. Keep an open mind. Set that north star of what you want to do, but be fluid as well. Find a love and passion! You don’t have to be stuck, but you do need to work hard.
I’ve been working with a lot of people in visual media, so I think you’re going to hear more of our story. I want to try to educate people on Jack’s coffee and our story; I want to let them know why it’s so good.
This interview took place at Jack’s Stir Brew's 10th Street location. Jack's Stir Brew is home to 6 locations in New York City. Here's the list: http://www.jacksstirbrew.com/locations.
Special thank you to Rob for coordinating and making the interview with Jack possible. And Jack, thank you for your time and sharing your experience with us.