20 Questions With Ken Nye, Founder of Ninth Street Espresso

What would you like to promote?

Great coffee without the pretentiousness.  

Is this your first business?

No. I owned a bar in the east village in the 1990s’

What is the #1 reason for your company's success?

Our approach to coffee is genuine and simple. People can relate to that. Also, the coffee is pretty damned good.

What was the first real successful moment for you guys?

In 2002 the NY Times (W. Grimes)  praised us for our quality and authenticity. No one was really talking about coffee that way at that time. It was a proud moment and in a strange way seemed to justify what we were doing. Prior to that moment people were slow to accept our approach to coffee. The acknowledgement had a big impact, people wanted to visit and see what we were doing.  

What do you wish you could tell yourself 5 years ago?

Buy your real estate. Delegate more, micro manage less. Don’t ever offer wifi in the shops.

Did you have any low points financially in the beginning?

The first year was hard. We were in an offbeat location, serving coffee in a way most people had never experienced. We would joke about the number of times per day we would say ‘No' to new customers, only to watch them leave, often irritated.  (we considered making a t shirt that said “Just say No” on the back with our Name on the front).  “Do you make breakfast?…No” “Can I have half decaf?…No”“Can you make that extra hot, and no foam?…No”“Do you have syrups?…No”Do you guys have a blender?… No, A toaster?…No?You get the picture.  It was not exactly the easiest way to get out of the gate. That said, we stuck by our guns and it paid off.

When did you begin making a profit?

Year two.

What is working best for your marketing right now?

Happy customers that tell their friends. Really, we don’t do any type of active marketing, advertising or PR. 100% organic growth.

What percentage of your clients find out about you guys this way?

Every one.

Networking, email newsletters or social media, choose one.

Until a few months ago it was none of the above. Recently one of our crew generously offered to represent us via Social Media. I am not sure if it has had much impact, but it seems like a positive thing.

What is your biggest differentiator?

Being the first modern specialty coffee shop in NYC set us apart from the very beginning. Since then we pioneered many of the approaches to coffee that are now considered the standard.  In the last few years we have stayed away from some of the trends that over complicate  (and over price) the coffee experience.  Our 2014 menu is definitely a game changer. Four items, four price points, no nomenclature. It is the coolest thing we have done to date.  

What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?

Committing to back off of any new projects for a while and re-focus on the rest of my life.  It’s easy to cloud your true priorities when growing a small business.

What is your morning routine?

Wake, say something nice to my wife, make us good coffee, pet the dog, check for any emails that warn of impending doom for the new day, wake the kids and it’s on!

What is your coffee shop order?

Espresso. Drip. In that order.

Where is the best place to eat in your city?

It's a tie between my next door neighbors deck (He takes the whole beer/grill/pork thing to another level) and my other neighbor's yard (She built an outdoor pizza oven and her food is like art) The tacos at Los Tacos No.1 are pretty dangerous as well. I like to keep it simple.

What are your hobbies?

I like to do things that involve floating in salty water.  Also, anything that makes my entire family laugh together.

What book do you highly recommend, why?

Any book that truly takes you away from the stress of the day. Bill Bryson’s work… laughing is therapeutic.

Favorite place to visit?

I am partial to tropical beaches. My favorite spot is relatively unknown and I plan to keep it that way.

What business would you love for someone else to start?

My local town is desperately in need of ethnic foods and great beer.  A creative approach to both would be greatly appreciated.  I know that this might seem shallow and selfish, but at least I am being honest. 

What advice do you have for new founders?

Not to sound cliche, but do what you love and the success will likely follow. If you are passionate about your creation people will respond to it.  All jokes aside, I am living proof.  I have made more mistakes than I care to admit, but yet have found success in what I do. I attribute this to genuineness, quality and perseverance. Also, hire people that are better than you at the many tasks that must be met each day. Last, pay your bills on time.

Visit the website Ninth Street Espresso

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Grab some Mexican food at Los Tacos No.1