October 3, 2019
It's official. A couple of Aussies are taking over the New York breakfast and brunch scene. Justin Giuffrida and Andrew Geisel met over having coffee in Brooklyn at another Australian coffee shop back in 2015 and decided to branch out on their own. One year later they opened the first Citizens location in Chelsea and a Gramercy location followed shortly after. The duo just opened their third location on Bleecker Street, Citizens of Bleecker, on August 26 in a heritage-listed building that was previously home to Pig Bleecker.
Gotham caught up with Giuffrida and Geisel to chat about their quick success, what else we can expect from the expanding café company, and what life is like as an Aussie in NYC.
How and when did you decide on the Bleecker location?
JUSTIN GIUFFRIDA: After our Gramercy location kicked-off, the timing was right for us to continue the growth of the brand and find another community for Citizens to serve. For us, a downtown location seemed fitting, so we began the search through lower Manhattan. Greenwich Village - in particular, Bleecker Street - has such a rich history and colorful personality that you can feel just by walking down the street.
ANDREW GEISEL: Bleecker is one of New York's most iconic streets—it was the home and hangout spot to some of our favorite artists like Jackson Pollock, Simon, and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan... the list is endless! The new home of Citizens at 155 Bleecker is an amazing venue—it is flooded with natural light, boasts high ceilings and is located in a beautiful heritage-listed building—for us it was a no-brainer.
How will this one be different from the other two locations?
AG: The core pillar of Citizens is connecting and adapting to communities—we aim to serve the "citizens" of that location. While our Chelsea and Gramercy stores are named after the neighborhood, this new location is named after the street itself. Why? Bleecker was once the major center for American Bohemia - and it is because of its iconic history that we wanted to pay homage to the street, not just the neighborhood.
JG: This store still has the "Citizens" touch of the other two locations. However, we've incorporated new design elements that differentiate the space. It will also be the first of the stores to serve dinner, which we are excited to introduce down the line. Like with all our stores, we find creative ways to serve the local citizens. With Bleecker's history in the arts space, we plan on incorporating live music, comedy, and other art forms in the space. Who knows, we could be the springboard to the next Bowie!
How does it feel to be in a heritage-listed building?
JG: The raw elements of the heritage-listed space creates incredible energy in the room, one that you can't put a price tag on. The space has preserved elements like iron pillars, distressed brickwork, and high ceilings, all that synergistically create a beautiful environment when dressed up. As we like to adapt each store to the neighborhood, it was almost easier for us to be in this heritage building. We were able to work around the history and beautiful elements that it served us on a silver platter. You don't come across those high ceilings in raw spaces anymore.
Are there any other locations planned for 2019?
AG: We are indeed looking at our next location that will debut later this year in lower Manhattan. We excitingly also have plans to expand interstate by 2020. Keep an eye out on our social for more details.
You now have three cafes in New York. What's the secret to your success?
JG: The secret that continues to drive Citizens' success, is passion and purpose, which is something that trickles down to the culture that we've created with our team. From the get-go, we've always worked hard on creating a strong workplace culture that encourages the full team to be better both personally and professionally. Through this, we can create a sense of place within the communities we are located in, and people can feel this both as a Citizens team member and guest.
AG: Another big part of Citizens success is our continued effort to give unwavering hospitality to the communities that we serve. From this, we have seen our teams create regulars, but also create evangelists, who're spreading the word to their friends at work, gym and online.
JG: As for Andy and I, we're on a continual journey of learning and self-development. As young founders, the learning curve at times has been like drinking water from a fire hose. It also helps to have a strong partnership; we really do balance and support each other, which is so important in a business relationship. Andy comes from a more creative architecture background, which comes in handy with designing new stores and visually creating the brand of Citizens. I come from a business background, which serves a purpose for the business on the backend.
How are you bringing Aussie culture to NYC?
AG: Citizens has Aussies culture in its fabric in every which way from the menu, design, and hospitality style. It's important to note, what is Aussie cafe culture? For the next-gen of young Aussie cafe operators like Citizens, it really comes down to innovation and progress within the industry. At its core, Australia is a young country, full of immigrants with big dreams. This breeds a powerful combination of ethnic inspiration like espresso culture from the Italians, with no allegiance to tradition.
JG: We find new and exciting ways to reinvent everything about cafe culture, and this is why we're industry leaders. We also bring friendly Aussie hospitality to the fast-paced, the hustle and bustle of the New York streets. We want each guest to leave our stores feeling like they were taken care of and welcomed into our little world. Our team is friends with our guests, and our guests love bringing in their families and friends. They become an extension of the Citizens family, and this is the face of true Australian hospitality.
Why do you think there is such a demand for Australian cafes in New York?
JG: Americans love Australians! They love the laid back culture that we represent and the fresh and innovative food that we eat. Americans love a good greasy breakfast—and the bagel breakfast is a staple for New Yorkers. But as the taste palate of New Yorkers has changed over the years, consumers are seeking a more fresh, modern approach to breakfast, brunch and beyond! This is where the Australians come in.
How is it being an Aussie living in NYC, especially as a business owner?
JG: It's definitely challenging at times, especially as you first move over to the city. For us, since we've been here well over a few years each, we have really found our footing here. You can almost consider us locals. Pretty early on, we learned that New York is built on and built for ambition. If you know what you want out of NY, then this city is phenomenal. I can confidently say that both Andy and I came to New York for a trip but ended up staying for a journey and it's what we're becoming in that journey that is the real richness.
Photography by: Photography courtesy Citizens