Attention, caffeine fiends and Hell’s Kitchen happy hour-seekers — coffee-themed cocktails and high-quality java brewed with a mixologist’s eye have arrived at Coffee Project, taking over the former Ikebana Zen sushi restaurant space.
After the former omakase eatery pivoted to a speakeasy-and-small-plates model last November, the team has decided to move out of the W53rd Street space altogether and pass the baton to Coffee Project NY, an independent, LGBTQIA+ and women-owned specialty cafe who have several other locations across the five boroughs.
Founded by New York duo Chi Sum Ngai and Kaleena Teoh in 2015, the Coffee Project team was already friendly with the Ikebana staff, who they are working with on the Long Island City cafe concept Knock Knock. “We appreciate the support from the neighborhood,” a representative from Ikebana told W42ST of the friendly transition. “Please continue to support the Coffee Project to become the most popular coffee shop in Hell’s Kitchen.”
“We are very excited to be part of Hell’s Kitchen!” said Ngai, adding, “In the opening of this new location we hope to create a community gathering space while sharing our passion for coffee with the neighborhood.” Hell’s Kitchen local Paul David was one West Sider and former Ikebana fan that had already taken the plunge and tried the new concept. “It’s a sad day that Ikebana is no more, but times move on,” said Paul. “I’m a bit of a coffee snob and [Coffee Project] delivers on very good quality coffee,” he added. “I also really like the environment — the seating isn’t too crowded and it’s really peaceful.”
W42ST stopped by the new Hell’s Kitchen concept where manager Jed Baxter and Nicole Guasch were busy building a deconstructed latte, one of the shop’s innovative specialty beverages that evokes a multi-sensory experience, said Baxter. In addition to classic pour-over brews, teas, deconstructed and reconstructed lattes (complete with intricate latte art), the cafe is already offering a spiked Irish Coffee made with Teeling Whiskey and the brand’s own Teeling-blend beans — and has plans for a further expanded caffeinated cocktail menu to launch in April.
“We’re hoping to offer a Mezcal Mule Cold Brew, and a Chai Old Fashioned to start,” said Baxter, noting that this will be the first Coffee Project location with a formal cocktail program. While they’ll “miss seeing all the whiskey” that was once displayed on the mirrored Ikebana bar, the Coffee Project team has quickly turned the chic speakeasy space into a day-to-night feel, where customers will soon be able to both co-work in a sun-filled space with a latte and a pastry in hand – and celebrate the end of their work day with a curated sip.
Coffee Project also plans to further connect with locals by holding coffee-tasting classes and pour-over tutorials for West Siders to try their hand at brewing, said Baxter. It’s all part of embracing the energy of the neighborhood, he added, noting that he loves “the community, and the hustle and bustle” of Hell’s Kitchen. “We’ve already gotten to know a lot of people who live on the block, a lot of parents who stop here after school drop off,” said Baxter, “and we have quite a few daily regulars!”
A steady stream of early afternoon patrons, many with a loyalty card in-hand, seemed proof enough that the Specialty Coffee Association-certified shop — which is the only cafe to bear the distinction in New York — has already seamlessly embedded itself in the neighborhood’s brew culture, where many locals were still mourning the loss of another nearby specialty shop, the late Kahve.
For now, java fans and the cocktail curious can be sure to find an oasis of daytime calm and a hint of Ikebana’s social lounge feel, all packaged in one. “We try to put thought and detail into everything we do — our mantra is to improve the quality of life for everyone, from producers to consumers,” said Baxter. “And we’re going to have happy hour!” Coffee aficionado Paul said that he planned to “certainly give their cocktails a try,” and that he had already earmarked the space as his go-to cafe meetup. “I meet a friend every Wednesday for coffee,” said, Paul, adding: “and we’ve already decided that this will be our regular weekly place!”
Coffee Project Hell’s Kitchen is located at 401 W53rd Street (bw 9/10th Ave) and is currently soft opening from 8am to 5pm, with plans to expand to 7pm in early April.