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A unique blend of high-quality brews and artfully-curated performance take center stage at new Hell’s Kitchen coffee shop White Noise — and it’s thanks to the vision of barista, theater artist, and New Yorker-by-way-of-Argentina Vanesa Kim.
The latest location on 11th Avenue, just south of W57th Street opens this week and is the newest outpost from the successful entrepreneur who also runs popular shops in Downtown Brooklyn and Flushing, Queens. White Noise specializes in well-crafted, single-origin espresso, lattes, drip, cold-brew, signature Cortados and snacks featuring flavors reflecting Kim’s Korean heritage and Argentinian upbringing, all served in a meticulously-designed, immersive environment.
Following in the footsteps of her parents, who owned several restaurants in Argentina, was not initially part of Kim’s plan. “I grew up in a restaurant environment,” said Kim. “To be honest, I’d promised myself growing up that I wouldn’t ever go into the hospitality business because I know how hard it is and how it’s very stressful to maintain a certain quality. But at the end of the day, I don’t know, maybe it’s just in my blood — and it’s what I ended up doing.”
Before fully embracing her destiny as a restaurateur, Kim and her family moved from Argentina to New York, where she would dive head-first into the city’s theater scene. Studying acting at the famed (FAME!) LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, just blocks away from her new coffee shop location, Kim found herself quickly acclimating to the vibrancy of the Theater District. “I spent a lot of time in the Lincoln Center area, seeing the energy there and how the city is run. I think what I felt spending time there as a child eventually influenced me to open up White Noise in the city — I wanted to feel that energy again,” said Kim.
After graduating from LaGuardia and studying theater at St John’s University, Kim returned to the Theater District to make her way as a performer. She worked in various Off-Broadway venues and productions, including a Korean theater production smack dab in the center of Times Square. To supplement her acting gigs, Kim began working at various New York coffee shops — from Eataly’s Caffé Lavazza and Pennylane to a coffee shop called Snack Box, built out of a shipping container — also in “in the middle of Times Square,” said Kim.
Her time working at Snack Box piqued an interest in the coffee industry. Said Kim, “That’s when I first experienced working in a coffee shop, and it made me think how valuable it is to be a barista and serve coffee. And so I slowly strived to learn everything from the basics up to being able to create a really good and high quality drink.”
Her passion for the coffee business overtook performing and Kim set out to fulfill the dream of opening up her own shop. Investors and landlords weren’t eager, however, to trust a young woman with little proven business experience.
“It was really difficult for me to open up White Noise in the first place. I had no business background or anything to show that it would be successful. So I had to take over my parents’ very old deli in Flushing, Queens, that they’d been running since we immigrated here from Argentina. I decided to convince my parents that I could take over the space and change it into the cafe that I’ve dreamt about, and that’s what happened. We literally pulled everything down and rebuilt from scratch,” said Kim.
White Noise’s first location quickly took off, becoming a go-to destination for regular visitors and passersby alike. Kim credits her training in the arts as instrumental to navigating her roles as barista and shop owner. “Being in the Off-Broadway industry and being on stage felt very much like being on the bar — pulling a good shot of espresso, explaining to customers what kind of beans are in a drink, where they come from, and what they’re tasting — all of that really helps the customer to feel what they’re tasting every day,” she said.
Kim’s life the arts has also influenced the ambiance and design of the Hell’s Kitchen space, where the coffee bar is highlighted through almost-theatrical lighting. And the team she’s recruited for her shops are award-winning baristas who are used to performing in coffee-making competitions. “We want to open up all five senses for our customers — the sound, the taste, the smell, the visual, the presentation of drinks. My memories of performing, and what I’ve seen my parents doing in their restaurants — I’ve translated into the art of coffee.”
Kim hopes that the Midtown West crowd, many discerning theatergoers and professionals themselves, will recognize the concentrated effort she and her team put into every drink and dish. Said Kim, “I think people in the performing arts industry will come back, because hopefully they’ll appreciate the steps, the quality, and the whole performance of the experience.”
Looking ahead, Kim plans to expand White Noise’s retail footprint by producing and selling their own beans: “E-commerce is our next step,” said Kim. Ultimately, she would like to open up a few shops globally, “in a few different countries, maybe in Spain,” she added.
As Kim gears up for the launch of her current venture, however, she returns to her roots in the arts to guide the way. “What theater school has taught me is how to talk with people, how to relate to people — it has really helped me get to this point. Ultimately, everything is a performance.”