Best friends Stephen Russell and Mitchell Senat knew that their bond was unlike any other when they first met in college circa the early 2000s. What they didn't know is how they'd work together to change the culture of coffee shops in the future. Birthed out of the pandemic and a desire to see more Black representation in the world of coffee curators, the two created the Drip Beverage Lounge, a Brooklyn-based couples a communal space for artists, creatives and coffee lovers with a singular drink menu that rivals that of your local Starbucks.
EBONY chatted with the enterprising duo about their coffee community chill-out spot Drip, as it is more commonly referred to, and their key to success.
EBONY: How did Drip come to be?
Stephen Russell: Almost everybody knows, whether young or old, that "drip" is a cup of coffee. Even if you've never used the word "drip," you'd understand what it meant if somebody said "yo, if you're going to the store, can you get me a cup of drip?" So, we felt like it was a culturally relevant term that would have the potential to stand the test of time—whether you're young or old.
As far as integrating into the coffee space, we already knew that folks love to go to their local corporate name coffee shop for fresh brew. However, it seemed like it was an underserved opportunity in our specific community. If you go to Soho or Midtown, there's tons of coffee shops that speak to a different culture of people. This culture is not necessarily our culture though, which causes a disconnect. With this in mind, we wanted to create a space that was inspired by the spirit of this neighborhood in Brooklyn that we know and love, while also creating space in an underrepresented market. Additionally, we both absolutely love coffee. We decided to plug all these things together and work to see what happened next.
Let's chat drink options. How do you curate your signature drink menu?
Russell: Our main drink is actually not a coffee drink specifically. It's called a "Purple Rain." It's our delicious housemade lemonade mixed with butterfly pea tea. It's a really nice blue color at first but then when you mix it, it turns purple and it's sweetened with some agave.
Mitchell Senat: As for our other signature drinks, we want to appeal to our demographic through the name, through experience and through taste. We try to keep it simple but elevated. We have a drink called The Don, which can be served iced or cold. It's made with bitters, simple syrup, espresso and cinnamon, plus shaken and served over the milk of your choosing.
We also have the Brooklyn Chaga. The chaga drink, in general, has been blowing up and growing in popularity but no one is making it special like we are. It's a specific type of coffee made from mushrooms that is packed with nutrients that promote wellness. Ours has the chaga coffee, caramel and oatmilk—it tastes amazing.
How do you go about sourcing the ingredients you include and serve?
Senat: Well, we are always changing the coffee that we serve because we get bored. That's one thing that big corporations don't have the luxury of doing as frequently. We make it a point to go to local roasters, taste their coffee and try their new items. We also get to go to different countries, bring bring back their blends and showcase them to our customers. We've also gone to these local roasters and put together our own blend. For the past three months, we had a special offering that we put together for our customers to try. The blend was roasted with chocolate and cranberries.
We also tend to change the coffee depending on the weather, not based on the season. The best part is when you hand it to a customer from behind the counter and then they genuinely enjoy it. It's genuinely dope to put something together yourself and put someone else on to the blend.
In the duration of time that Drip has been open, you've had a lot of cool people come through the shop like rapper Busta Rhymes. How have you created such a welcoming and community centered environment, especially in the midst of a global pandemic?
Russell: We've really made it a point to go into our community and give people a chance. We've opened our doors to allow folks to try new things and host events like speed dating, listening parties, art showcases and open mic nights. These are opportunities that they may not have had if they went to another spot so we prioritized this experience. Through this, we were able to meet a lot of new faces and get to know folks. They have been able to trust in us to foster a space that is going to be safe and dope all the time. After the heightened tensions after George Floyd, we wanted our customers to know that they were heard and validated and we received that same affirmation in return, which allowed us to continue to flourish.
Senat: You want people to be able to people just to feel comfortable in the spaces you curate. There's a certain level of comfortability that comes with being around people that you know and share the same sentiments with. With so many people staying in and not going out as much, that communal connection is missed and it affects us all in ways that we may not realize. I think Drip is a part of a return to a sense of normalcy within the community we serve. We can't take all the credit for this as it is definitely a collective effort.
As close friends, what are your tips for making the business work while not confusing personal emotions?
Russell: One thing to always remember is that it is not a competition. We are not competing against one another; we are working to build something bigger than ourselves. Another tip is to not overextend yourself and communicate when you need help. Because, we are in this together, we have a duty to help each other thrive in this business.
Senat: Also, it's important that we understand each other's strengths. This allows us to maximize our full potential. Lastly, we trust each other enough to be very blunt with one another. Whether it's giving feedback or taking on another task, I know that he is never going to tell me something that isn't for my best interest or for the greater good of Drip. It's just a given and unspoken thing between us. That's how we've made it work.