New Kid on the Block: JEM Café

“The original idea was for it to be not so gussied up,” says Davis Thompkins of JEM Café, which he has just opened inside one of the window bays at JEM Fabric Warehouse. But as he began to build it, his perfectionism took over, and why not do it right? “I made the awning last night at 4 a.m. Midway through, I was kicking myself. Why did I have to give it a scalloped edge?”

Thompkins had worked at Lehmann Brothers and Bear Sterns for eight years, and before that Ralph Lauren, but it was the restaurant that he and his wife owned (Dallas Jones BBQ on Bedford) that led to the partnership with JEM. One of their best customers was the patriarch of the Zahabian family, which owns JEM Fabric Warehouse.

To call the café a labor of love is a major understatement. Thompkins did the woodwork, the plumbing—everything, basically, and he has no background in that stuff. (Appropriately given JEM Fabric Warehouse’s emphasis on crafting, Thompkins used found and recycled materials wherever he could.) The café is so small that customization was the only way to make efficient use of the space; it’s sort of like a boat. “People would tell me to get a vintage pastry case, but where would I put it? Behind the window?” The inspiration was European cafés, where standing is de rigueur, as well as Abraço in the East Village. “The idea really gelled when I saw Abraço, and I realized there was a way to have the customer be focused on the product”—and not, say, a laptop.

As for the product, it’s carefully sourced from all over. The coffee is from Lavazza; the cupcakes are from Robicelli’s (flavors might include chocolate ganache with pretzels or maple and apple brown butter). “The granola and shortbread cookies are being made for us by a top pastry chef I can’t name. And we’re going to have the Fat Witch brownie and macarons from Bisous Ciao.”

You can order coffee drinks to go, of course (in a hand-stamped cup), or stand at the counters (the café has real espresso cups). So that there’s somewhere to hang out, especially once the weather turns chilly, JEM is fixing up the seating area in the middle of the store. Thompkins has some ideas about what kind of sign he might make….

JEM Café is at 355 Broadway (between Franklin and Leonard); open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to around 4:30 p.m.

From left: A JEM barista, Davis Thompkins (center), Michelle Zahabian (left)

Recent New Kid on the Block articles:
Organic Modernism
Sarabeth’s Tribeca


1 Comment

  1. Really fresh coffee and great if you have a dog since you don’t need to tie them off!