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For a company that only arrived in Manhattan eight years ago, FIKA is doing a pretty good job of showing the coffee world how it’s done. It’s already the largest privately owned coffee company in New York and the fastest-growing coffee company in New York City history. In 2015, FIKA will open its flagship store in one of downtown’s most coveted locations: on the ground floor of Tower 4 in the new World Trade Center. Overlooking the memorial, the new location is expected to draw more than 55 million visitors a year—a far cry from the one-location company founded in 2006 by Swedish native Lars Åkerlund, whose sole goal was to bring to New York the Swedish concept of “a daily FIKA” (a coffee break, often accompanied by a sweet or savory snack). Åkerlund’s coffee shop—FIKA 58th Street—remains in its original location at 41 W. 58th St., but the company has added eight more locations since 2006. It’s also added two more partners: Åkerlund’s wife, Lena Khoury, whose background includes five years with Hermés, and chocolatier Håkan Mårtensson, a Culinary Olympics Gold Medal winner. Mårtensson joined the FIKA family in 2009; today, you’ll find him behind glass windows that offer a view of the chocolate production process inside FIKA Tribeca & Chocolate Factory (450 Washington St.), where he supervises one full-time staff member and six interns while retaining his well-deserved status as a chocolate artist. Mårtensson, born and raised in Sweden, knew from an early age that he “didn’t want to be sitting behind a computer all day,” and that he “liked to eat.” When it came time to pick a vocational training path, his creativity and facility with his hands led him to a pastry and baking-design course, which he took from ages 15–18. After graduation, he worked with leading Swedish pastry chefs (cue Muppets theme) and developed a love of all things chocolate, particularly chocolate carving and design. That remains his specialty today. At FIKA Tribeca & Chocolate Factory on a Thursday morning, Mårtensson took me on a tour of the various sculptures in progress in the factory. There was the chocolate Yoda that my co-worker had urged me to steal when he discovered I’d be taking the tour (alas, it would have been too obvious); a giant chocolate dinosaur Mårtensson has been working on for weeks; and a dragon that Mårtensson considers his favorite kind of figure to carve. “Whatever you do, no one can ever say it’s wrong,” he says. “I can use my imagination completely.” When asked if he’s bothered that his name isn’t on the door (like other chocolatiers around the city), Mårtensson doesn’t skip a beat. “FIKA is a much stronger word than my name,” he says, referring to the Swedish concept. (Mårtensson, Åkerlund, and Khoury are all Swedish, and all three deeply identify with the idea of “taking a FIKA.”) And when I asked him what he thought of the pastry chefs and dessert shops that have a habit of making a name for themselves by coming up with quirky, trendy products (cough, cough, cronut), he was similarly nonplussed (perhaps a Swedish trait). “I have things people have never tried before, but it’s all part of a consistency of being innovative and creative, not to be different,” he says. “I could do a smoked-salmon truffle and make it taste good, but do I want to be known as the smoked-salmon truffle guy? No.” As for the future, there are big plans for FIKA—even bigger than the flagship store at the World Trade Center. Next month, the company will open FIKA Tower, its largest location yet, at 55th Street and 10th Avenue. The three-story building will house a catering kitchen, a bakery and pastry factory, and an event space. They hope to open 5–10 more stores in Manhattan, then branch out to Brooklyn, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Seattle. No small dreamer, Mårtensson says the ultimate goal is 50 stores in the US within the next five years, and then to set their sights on the global market. “Chocolate is one of those things that knows no boundaries across the world,” he says. But in the here and now, Mårtensson is simply doing what he does—though in a spectacular fashion that makes it quite obvious that he loves every second of it. Tall and quiet, his usual presentation is anything but showy. But watching him prepare chocolate and then finish truffles by hand in the factory, it’s impossible to miss the almost imperceptible smile on his face. FIKA Tribeca & Chocolate Factory is located at 450 Washington St., New York, NY 10013. They are open Mon–Fri from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sat. from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sun. from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. In addition to a full range of chocolate products, FIKA serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a full wine list. Visit http://www.fikanyc.com/ for more information. Check Groupon for deals at more New York City coffee shops.Read More
It’s just past 9 p.m. on a Thursday, long after most of Manhattan’s trendier donut shops have closed for the night. But The Donut Pub will be open all night long, neon sign a-blazing—just as it has been every evening since 1964. Inside the shop on 14th Street in Chelsea, “Magic Mike” stands behind the back counter with his magician’s supplies spread out before him, ready to perform tricks and illusions for the steady stream of customers who will come through the door. He’s been a regular at the Pub for 38 years—“Can’t you tell I love donuts?” he asked, pointing to his belly—and after he retired from the New York City Fire Department, he took up magic, bringing his act to his favorite neighborhood hangout. (He also performs private shows and sells magic supplies at the Pub and elsewhere.) But Magic Mike is only one of many regulars at the 24/7 shop. There are also the dozens of businessmen who appear every morning with their copies of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times to order the Sip & Dip special (coffee and a donut for $2.90) to accompany the day’s news. Operations manager and baker Gus Markatos started working at the Pub while in high school in the 1990s and has held his current role since 2002. He’s a regular sight behind the counter every morning and not an unusual one in the evenings, either. Most anyone who visits the Pub on the regular knows Gus, and the feeling is mutual—though “there are so many regulars [he] can’t even count,” he knows them all by sight and many by name. Gus isn’t the only familiar face behind the counter. There’s also Buzzy Geduld, the retired Wall Street multimillionaire who founded and still owns The Donut Pub. Patty, who works from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekend, has been at the Pub since it opened and has the stories to prove it. (More than a few late-late-late-night revelers come in asking for a beer with their donuts, not realizing that the “pub” name isn’t quite literal, she said.) Sammy, who works various afternoon and evening shifts during the week, has been at the Pub since 1980. Other counter staffers come and go regularly with the seasons. Though the Pub and its clientele seem unchanged through the decades, its neighborhood is not. Just a few blocks uptown, a much-changed Chelsea Hotel now houses the Doughnut Plant, a decidedly froufrou spot whose signature crème brûlée donuts cost upwards of $3 each. You’d think that with all this gentrification, The Donut Pub would have seen some hard financial times. But according to Gus, it’s been the exact opposite. “We’ve put two Dunkin’ Donuts out of business,” he said. “One on 14th Street a few blocks down and another around the corner.” And he doesn’t think that “artisanal” donut shops have anything on the Pub, either, no matter how trendy their flavors or presentation may be. “We are better than the competition: always fresh, and they are made with love.” There’s lots of love to go around here. The Village Voice named the Pub’s chocolate cake donut among the city’s best. CBS NY7 did the same for its honey dip donut, whereas both Gothamist and Tasting Table ranked its jelly-filled donut among the best. (My personal favorites are the boston creme and the sugar-raised, but I’d take any of them before walking out empty-handed.) Gus isn’t stingy with the love on the baking side of things, either. It’s not unusual to see him coming out of the back room with a rack of freshly baked croissants that he happily shares with regulars, sometimes on the house. (Yes, The Donut Pub has a full line of pastries, including muffins, cookies, biscuits, bagels, and bialys.) He has even developed his own version of the crazy-popular cronut, which some daresay is better than the one you-know-who makes (and people wait on line for hours for). Gus’s black-and-white cookie is among the best in the city—I can vouch personally for its ability to single-handedly soothe even the worst sort of New York heartbreak. That includes at least one romance that both began and ended at The Donut Pub, with Gus and company as witness. To their professional credit, they didn’t take sides, and the cookie was on the house. But the best part about working at The Donut Pub? Sammy and Gus agree: it’s the donuts. “I eat a donut every day,” Gus said. But as he stands there framed by racks and racks of tempting sweets, it’s hard to believe he stops at just one. No one else I know is able to. The Donut Pub is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and is located at 203 W. 14th St., just west of 7th Avenue. Photos by Amy L. Hayden. Check Groupon for deals on coffee and treats in New York City.Read More
By Brendan Fitzgibbons Dogs can pant to cool themselves down, but humans? All we’ve got is ice cream. Lucky for us, New York offers no shortage of chilly treats, from handcrafted scoops and smooth sorbets to fruity popsicles and milky, refreshing floats. Sit back, lower that body temperature, and enjoy these five spots for sweet treats. Ample Hills Creamery Prospect Heights | 623 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn One lick of Ample Hills’ ice cream, and you might wish you were on a hill of it. This Prospect Heights shop makes their sweet treats by hand using local and all-natural ingredients. Their menu of more than 20 ever-changing flavors includes options like The Munchies—stuffed with Ritz crackers, mini M&Ms, potato chips, and pretzels—or Salted Crack Caramel, which mingles saltine-based “crack cookies” with salted butter-caramel ice cream. The eclectic selection means that Ample Hills is that rare ice-cream shop where the adults are often just as excited as the kids. The ice-cream maestros recently opened a second location in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5, as well as mobile carts that rove around Pier 1 and the Carousel. Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain Carroll Gardens | 513 Henry St., Brooklyn The employees at Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain are jerks—but that’s only true in the sense that they wear the word on their T-shirts. The store has a vibe that’s as friendly and welcoming as any establishment in Brooklyn, with delectable treats and floats to boot. The jerks’ signature drink, the Brooklyn egg cream, tastes like a chocolate water fountain of fizzy hope. If you’re really tired or need to be revived from cardiac arrest, you can also try the Wake Up Call, a coffee soda with coffee and a hearty glob of ice cream. Get a sneak peak of Brooklyn Farmacy’s new cookbook, The Soda Fountain, on The Groupon Guide. Cones West Village | 272 Bleecker St., NYC The multicolored scoops on the sign of this tasty West Village shop could be mistaken for a double rainbow. But the façade is only a taste of the wide range of Argentine gelato flavors available inside. Spread out in a massive cold case, they all look like they’re on trial for their sugary goodness. Try the coffee mocha chip, ginger, or tiramisu, and don’t forget the silky sorbets in flavors like cantaloupe, mango, and even chocolate. This is gelato that’s so good, it can even stand in for a trip to the bar: the whiskey-flavored gelato is so strong that customers have to show their ID. People’s Pops Multiple locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn Remember the popsicles you used to make as a kid? People’s Pops are not those popsicles. The menu reads more like a list of a sorcerer’s potions than a list of frozen-treat flavors: blackberry and lemon verbena, organic lemon and mint, rhubarb and star anise. Each People’s Pop is packed with the freshest local fruits, so enjoying one is like licking a deliciously cool farmer’s market. The artisanal shop began as a one-day experiment, but has since blossomed into four permanent locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with pop-up stands at Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea on the weekends. Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream Multiple locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn Everything about Van Leeuwen ice cream is classy. Just saying the name “Van Leeuwen” feels like you’re floating on a superior ice-cream cloud. At three locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, employees scoop out flavors made with hormone- and antibiotic-free milk. Van Leeuwen also has a traveling truck that would make any normal ice-cream truck want to go back to ice-cream-truck school. Try the espresso and earl grey flavors, or ceylon cinnamon, which has a spicy, dusty kick. Van Leeuwen also keeps special flavors on rotation, including a sweet, sticky black rice flavor for the adventurous tongue. Shop Groupon for coffee and treats in New York City. People's Pops photo by Bethany Bandera. Brooklyn Farmacy photo reprinted with permission from The Soda Fountain by Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, Inc. copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. Photography (c) 2014 by Michael Harlan Turkell.Read More