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Hell’s Kitchen has gained two world-class specialty shops in one with the arrival of Rubber N’ Road — an establishment that’s bringing global coffee and cycling gear to the neighborhood.
When Gil Lavi arrived in New York from Tel Aviv in 2010, the first thing that struck him was how bad Starbucks coffee was. “I landed here 11 years ago and I walked into Starbucks. I was immediately taken aback by the flavor — I found it just shocking. I never tasted anything like that. It was just completely strange to me. Then I was also looking for something that tasted more close to what I was used to. And so I started to research,” he told us while meticulously making a coffee.
Over the years, his research transformed into a desire to open a coffee shop — and along the way, he gathered a second obsession, cycling. “I got obsessed with coffee and cycling at pretty much the same time,” Gil said.
Now he has joined forces with his friend Max Davis to merge those passions at Rubber N’ Road on W51st Street between 9/10th Avenue (in the store that used to be Cakes ‘N’ Shapes). “It’s pretty easy to geek out on bikes and coffee. There’s a lot of equipment and gear — people can really immerse themselves,” says Max.
Gil and Max founded Rubber N’ Road in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. They had both spent years working with large brands in the cycling industry but wanted to create a new way to serve the New York cycling community. Gil offers the global perspective in the partnership, while Max, who was born just steps from Central Park, gives the local knowledge of New York road cycling.
In the venture they see lots of synergies between cycling and coffee. They want to “bring a fresh alternative to the cycling industry’s habit of using glittery paint jobs to cover up less-than-ideal supply chains and products” as well as being a unique alternative to branded coffee that “is like having one vineyard serve the same cup of wine to 200 million people year after year.”
They are promoting emerging, independent cycling brands in the store — and for their beans, they have selected single-origin coffees curated by the legendary Berlin coffee roasters, The Barn.
Max recalls first meeting Gil at industry events around the city four years ago. They struck up a friendship and in 2019 Gil asked him to join his consultancy business. “For the first six months, it was insanely busy and then the pandemic hit. The whole world kind of hit the pause button,” Max recalls. They started to look at options and identified that New York’s cycling community “with all the diversity in the New York cycling community, the offering of cycling brands and products was extremely limited.”
Their business started online with a range of independent products from around the world. “We started to send out emails and make calls to brands in June, July of last year. We got in touch with Rob Gitelis, who’s the owner of Factor — a bike brand. He really loved the idea and agreed to support us. Rob is an American based in Taiwan — everything he produces is built and engineered in his own factory. And then we started reaching out to the apparel brands,” Max told us.
They soon added jerseys from MAAP in Australia, Kask helmets, KOO sunglasses and Q36.5 apparel from Italy, Isadore clothing from Slovakia, Festka bicycles from the Czech Republic and cycling fashion from FINGERSCROSSED in Germany.
“We launched the website in August of 2020,” said Max. “We always remember MAAP shipped us our first shipment of apparel and it was in this tiny box — three feet by two feet. So we started selling the apparel through the website.”
Their move to meeting customers in person came when they wanted to do a photo shoot up in Vermont. “We couldn’t afford anything — and car hire was $200 a day. So we asked Volvo if they could help. They liked what we were doing and helped with a car — and offered for us to create a popup at their dealership on 11th Avenue,” said Gil. “That’s when Rubber N’ Road actually came to life. Customers actually showed up in real life.”
They did more popups and one day when Gil was delivering locally from his Hell’s Kitchen apartment he spotted the empty storefront on W51st Street. “We wanted a place with proximity to Central Park and the West Side Bike Patch — so geographically it felt right,” he recalls.
They took on the lease in March and are in soft launch for the rest of August — opening Thursday to Sunday from 9am-5pm for cycling talk and coffee.
“I mean, cycling and coffee are pretty related. I think most cyclists enjoy coffee — we’re always going on coffee rides. There’s always a coffee stop,” said Max.
They’ve already connected with their neighbors. Specialist beer bar, AS IS, around the corner on 10th Avenue is already their after-work favorite and they’ve made friends with Lino at Il Melograno across the road. They’re also facing a challenge from Bobby next door at Totto Ramen. “We need for Bobby to approve our Japanese-style hand brew. It’s a Japanese-style ice pour-over. Gil’s been working for some time on that,” said Max.