The place to converge in Peekskill is its eponymous coffee house. With coffee bean bags hung around the tin ceiling, vintage fashion and art on the walls, message boards, t-shirts and other merchandise that would make any hipster proud, Peekskill Coffee House is definitely connected to the young and cool community. It gives Moms and commuters an urban outlet. Along with a cup of coffee and a panini, which can be enjoyed in and out of doors, are live performances and open mic, complementing the shows at the Paramount Theater a block away.
A San Franciscan, Sunny Cover was used to cafes. “It was shocking” not to find one or a place to meet friends inPeekskill. She opened the coffee house in 2003, used a loan from Community Capital to expand into food in 2009, and continues to sell organic and fair trade fresh-roasted coffee. Sipping a cortado—an expresso “cut” with a small amount of warm milk to reduce the acidity—Sunny is a business dynamo under the façade of a tattooed pixie and would be buzzing about the wine shop she plans to open next door without aid of caffeine:
How did you get into the coffee business?
We bought a house in Peekskill and there was no place to get a cup of coffee or stop and say hi to someone. I sat outside this location and counted cars and people walking by and then approached the landlord.
How did you get your business off the ground?
With neighbors. The décor started with green vintage chairs that we found on the side of the road inBrooklyn. Then we added old 1950s tables, and we continued with an eclectic and mad mix so it feels homey and not too contemporary. Our welcome, when we opened in 2003, was huge. People moving up fromQueensandBrooklynwere instant customers. Now the customer base is extremely wide, withWestchesterCommunity Collegestudents, workers from the health care clinic, Con Ed, Cablevision and the hospital down the road, doctors and lawyers in the area and a lot of young kids and Moms from preschools inCortland,PeekskillandHudson. A lot of our base and initial support and stability came from businesses in downtown.
How did your business evolve?
I went to coffee conventions and talked to other people in the industry, and then, with a loan from Community Capital, I bought my partners out and added soup and sandwiches. For six years customers just sat here and drank coffee. They’d drive by if they wanted a breakfast sandwich. The learning curve of taking a business in a new direction, when you are used to doing something a certain way, was really difficult. The logistics of figuring out the how and when sandwiches are made were tremendous. Customers are willing to accept change. Staff wanted to continue just pouring cups of coffee. The turnover was mad. Now that the kinks have been worked out, I’m working on social networking. It’s one of my last bridges. You have to be so consistent with it. If you’re not privy to sitting on the computer and being able to batter back and forth to use it as a serious marketing tool, it’s better to have someone do that for the business. I’ve hired someone so I can focus on the business of my business.
What’s the best advice you got along the way?
Get advice. Visit competitors. Talk to people in the business.
When did you know you’d arrived?
When my daughter, who is now 16, hung out here with her friends.
I’m going to be elbow deep in a wine bar. They’ll be two separate businesses, but it’s next door, and the back rooms are connected and will share a larger kitchen. It just landed in my lap, a very organic process. Just like the coffee house.