cupUp:. in conversation with caroline bell, of cafe grumpy

When an idea is born, only the idea and its parent knows.

When the idea is given birth to, then the possibility exists for its parent and all its friends to know.

Eight years ago an idea, called Café Grumpy began a journey and made its first appearance in Greenpoint. Today, its owners Caroline Bell and Chris Timbrell, have welcomed three expressions out of the first.

For whom, when and where The Café Grumpy bell tolls, frowns are a beautiful expression and a part of the happy independents’ main.

smdlr: Its so good to see you Caroline. It’s been a while, but as you know, I owe much of my journey into the rabbit hole of coffee and specifically the culture of roasting to you.

She blushes, left cheek first, rosy pink and starts with a humble thank you and me with a coffee, my favorite here – a soy flat white -via barista Amanda.

s: Can you share what having a space like The Greenpoint Roastery as a coffee shop creates for coffee culture?

Caroline Bell:  To start, I grew up in New Jersey, and I use to come to the city on the weekends; I’ve been living here now since 2001.  In 2005 there was nothing there in Greenpoint It came and created a culture in that neighborhood, a meeting place. As far as coffee, in general, when you open a coffee shop and try to focus on quality, raise the bar and keep standards high it makes things interesting.

s: The coffee space in general can be quite communal. This is evident even on Girls where Café Grumpy’s Greenpoint location is an actual coffee shop and character in the landscape of the now Emmy Award winning HBO Series ‘Girls’.  Can you speak to the community that exists there?

cb: Working there is social. You meet tons of people and it’s a stable job. Being a barista is a skill, one you can travel with – you can go all over and get jobs everywhere. I think moving to the city is a good way to introduce yourself to that community and also to branch out, you get to know what’s going on, it’s a real place of discovery.

s: Given that, how was Café Grumpy discovered to be part of ‘Girls’?

cb: The neighborhood gets a lot of people shooting there and there are lots of spots that location scouts like. I’m not sure how specifically it happen. At first I didn’t know if it would be show as a real store, or like a kindergarten or a fancy restaurant. But, it actually turned out to be a coffee shop. And, I had no idea it would be a character in the show.

s: I think it’s so cool.  So good for the culture of what occurs in the coffee shop. How much of the Greenpoint location would you say is indicative of your character?

cb: That location is a collective of everyone who has worked there. From Kira, one of our longest employees, to the old posters and some strange furniture things, the bar which a few friends help put together, the book exchange and other little random things and leftover things. It’s like a weird living room even the way its transformed, the tables are mismatched, all the tables shellacked and collaged.  But its works for there, its really the peoples initiative that’s made it that way.

s: Are there actual characters from ‘Girls’ that you identify with?

cb: Ray. He’s social but remembers you’re always having to work. There’s that line that you have to work although there is a social place.

s: There’s some romanticism about being a barista. I’ve always thought since I was young, how cool it would be to have a hat, with a pen behind my ears, taking orders and delivering coffee.   How hard is it to be a good barista?

cb: Its hard.  To be a barista takes skill and knowledge. You have to be on time, be subtle with customers and also understand the feeling of the store.  You have to be aware of the energy it has because sometimes nothing specific is happening.  Its’ such a dynamic role, and when people feel too in different ways it works when people can work together well.

s: Its like an orchestra, all members being conducted to work tougher.

cb: Yes, and with four stores now -one being a bakery where the ladies work really hard – I’m proud, really proud of where we are.

To that, smdlr raises its cupUp.

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