Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

In this ongoing feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.



By James Maher
Name: Ali Sahin
Occupation: Owner, C&B Café
Location: 7th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B
Date: Thursday, Jan at 4 pm

I’m from Turkey. I came here about 9 or 10 years ago. I visited here once before when I was a kid, and I guess it was time. New York is a charm. I’ve been in restaurants in New York for eight years now, cooking mostly, but I’ve done almost anything. I went to culinary school back in the day and worked for some fine dining restaurants in New York City, and then I wanted to open up something simpler and more approachable than fine dining.

Fine dining was a great experience. You learn a lot, but you can’t eat in a fine dining restaurant everyday — one financially and two it wouldn’t be that healthy. It’s a weird thing when you work in these fancy restaurants that you can’t afford to eat in. It was a good learning experience. It was like a school but they pay you, although kitchen work is pretty hard. The fine-dining world takes itself the most serious, which is great in one way, and it’s not that great in another, because at the end of the day it’s just food.

I was working in the West Village and there was this great little café owned by a French couple, 11th Street Café. I would always go and have a sandwich and coffee and they had a great staff and delicious food, fresh. So I thought, “Maybe I can do something like this, but a little different.” There it was very simple — we are very simple too but we make our own breads and sausages and stuff, so I took that and I said, “You know what, we’ll make everything in the house,” which is not an easy concept. We couldn’t do everything in house in the beginning because it takes a lot of labor and we didn’t have that much money, but as we started generating more money then I managed to hire other people, and now we make everything in house except cheese and butter — two years in.

I actually wanted to open in Brooklyn, where I lived at the time, but it didn’t work out — the hype and expense in Brooklyn was really high. I couldn’t find a place and I couldn’t agree with the landlords. I honestly never looked into the city because I thought I couldn’t afford it. I just randomly ran into an ad for a space below Houston, which was affordable, and so I started to look into lower Manhattan, and then the next ad was for this space, and it worked out. It happened in like 15 days after three years of trying to find a space.

The type of food is kind of hard to explain. We serve breakfast and lunch only — we serve breakfast all day and lunch starts after 11. Everything is made here and made to order. It’s a small café but it works like a high-end restaurant. We start cooking everything once you order. The idea is more approachable, more affordable, good food, which I think is still missing in New York City, and in America unfortunately. Food in New York at least is suffering a lot right now. A lot of places are closing down and big names are going out of business.

I never did a coffee shop concept, restaurants yes, but I was mostly behind the scenes. The first day we were open, I think it was a blizzard day, and I didn’t have milk or cream and people kept asking. Of course they asked for milk. One of the neighbors here, Daniel, who’s a longtime East Village person and used to be a theatre director, a very kind and artsy gentleman, brought us the milk and cream from his house. That was pretty great and he still comes in. And last year there was a blizzard and they shut down the subways, and I walked all the way from Bed Stuy. It was a two-hour walk. I didn’t know, but a bunch of people walked in that day. It was a great business day. Now I’ve moved back, a little too close. I live about 50 steps away — I never leave work.

I lived in this neighborhood when I first moved to New York, on Avenue C between 7th and 8th for the first two years, then I moved to Brooklyn and I worked in the West Village and Upper East Side. The East Village is special. The people here… especially after I started the business, now I talk to everybody who comes in and lives in the neighborhood. They’ve been really kind and generous. It’s amazing. I’ve talked to other people who run businesses in the neighborhood and we all feel the same way. I don’t think it could work anywhere else, honestly.

I feel like we’ve managed to build a place where it’s not just a hyped-out restaurant. It’s more like an in the neighborhood-forever type place. We can name about 70 percent of the people who walk into this place and have a small talk or conversations about their life – and then they know when they need to move faster too. We gotta work.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.

22 comments:

JG said...

Thanks for all your work, Ali — you've created a great neighborhood place

dwg said...

Believe this good little cafe is between A and B, not B and C. The name is a little confusing.

EV Grieve said...

Thanks dwg — I fixed that....

Ronnie said...

C&B Cafe is one of the best places in the neighborhood and I have lived in the EV for over 20 years. Congratulations Ali and all of his cool staff, they all make the place welcoming and the food is truly delicious. Hope this doesn't mean that the line is gonna be long now to get an amazing chorizo, egg and cheese sandwich!

Jon said...

Thank you Ali, I really do love this cafe. Aside from the food, there is always a great playlist on the go.

What is behind the name C&B though?

Anonymous said...

Very nice. Good place.

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Ali, thank you for making the East Village a better place!

Anonymous said...

I like this guy's attitude.

Greg Cellamare said...

I went to this place a bunch of times a year ago or so as I live a few doors down. I love the charm and the food was great, reasonably priced, and the staff was friendly. I find that I don't go in anymore because, honestly, I just don't like the pour over coffee and coffee is the real reason I go out for breakfast. Is it still just pour over or has it changed? If so, I would DEFINITELY make it my weekend coffee and breakfast spot.

Anonymous said...

C&B is a fantastic coffee shop, it enhances the neighborhood more than one can quantify. I wish I had one in williamsburg since i moved from 7th street. I often make the trip back in just to see Ali & Kyle, and of course, to EAT!

best eggs you will get, hands down.

Anonymous said...

Sounds awesome.

jpgale said...

Love this place and Ali's warm spirit!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above commenter about the our over. I don't need that. I want a normal, good cup of coffee. That pour over is like acid crack and north worth the price either. I'm sure he'll accommodate regular coffee sometime soon if they haven't yet.

Anonymous said...

C&B Cafe is one of the most reliably delicious and charming establishments in Manhattan. Congratulations, Ali. Your effort does not go unrecognized.

cmarrtyy said...

11:42

Bring your own coffee. I've seen it done at various small restaurants. As long as you buy food at your table, the management won't mind.

Anonymous said...

I get coffee here most Sats and Suns. Wish they were open earlier than 8 during weekdays.

Ali is very friendly as is staff. Recommended, but beware of lines later in the morning. Its poppin' during brunch (no booze) with limited seating.

I miss Korzo Haus, sure, but this was a welcome change of pace.

Anonymous said...

I can eat at C&B only once a month. That's all my waistline can take of those heavenly porkbelly-egg-and-cheese sandwiches! Nicest staff, freshest food and Ali is the greatest guy.

abfus said...

I think their pour over is great.

Aly T said...

Love Ali and love his food! Happy to see the write up on EVG. Such a fun, good dude who works his ass off to bring us all fresh, amazing food every day :) I am a huge fan.

Ali Onur Şahin said...

Thank you EVG for this, and thank you for all kind comments. Your kind words means a lot to me and to the people work with me . I hope we can really be a staple of EV. As a response to pour over comments, we serve pour overs only because I believe that is as fresh as a cup of drip coffee gets, but things can change.

Anonymous said...

Love that place! This guy too, so sweet!

Anonymous said...

For the commenters who are asking C&B stands for coffee and breakfast :)
Ali you're the best and I'm so glad you guys are doing so well - you make the best food, work your ass off and totally deserve it, congrats.
Seeya later
-Leanne (and Lio)