Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Franklin Ave: Coffee and More!

The New York Times article that appeared on Monday generated a fair amount of chatter up and down Franklin Avenue, with conversation turning repeatedly to a particular line describing "the lackluster commercial strip of Franklin Avenue, dominated by hair-braiding salons, discount stores and takeout restaurants." Some folks took offense, while others argued that the line captured the current look of the Avenue without giving due credit to its ongoing transformation. The article itself struck me as pared-down, editorially speaking, so I'm going to take the blogger's unasked-for, un-granted prerogative and fill in the gaps as I see fit.

Where to start--how about with the coffee shops themselves? Our current symbols of economic transformation (what Nostrand Park might call "uncommon gentrification indicators") are in the process of expanding their bustling businesses, as I learned by stopping in at both on my way home. At The Pulp & The Bean, Tony Fisher will be taking credit and debit cards after the holiday, per customer requests. You'll be able to use your magic plastic to pick up their latest menu additions, which will include freshly-pressed panini, wraps, soups, and salads. They've also added a full-size brownie, which comes with the lady's stamp of approval.

Down the street at the Breukelen Coffee House, Jay, Frank, and Leeza continue to offer all manner of baked goods on order from Balthazar, as well as their in-house items. They've also signed a lease to expand their shop into an adjacent space that goes all the way back to the edge of Franklin Park. The added seating will come with a significantly expanded menu that the owners promise will be vegan-friendly and almost completely vegetarian (though the barbs exchanged with laughter between the three suggest that the final decisions are still open for debate). Look for a fantastic opening celebration sometime soon.

Asked about their 15 minutes in the Grey Lady, both Tony and the Breukelen Three expressed their pleasure at being mentioned but agreed that the feud (which caught the eye of Gawker--thanks for the link, guys!) was a less exciting hook than the story of Franklin Avenue's renaissance. Playing down the Brooklynian spat, Tony reiterated his best wishes for his counterparts down the street, which Jay echoed. "That's what we've been saying from the beginning--it's all about the betterment of the block. We all love the block."

So what of this lackluster strip? Since I moved in and started prattling away into cyberspace in August 2008, the following shops have opened up on Franklin between Eastern and Atlantic, or very close by:

- A Slice of Brooklyn
- Franklin Park (with the winter bar added in November 2008 and the burgers coming soon)
- Nairobi's Knapsack (toys/playspace, celebrated their first year in business this weekend)
- The Pana Store
- JamRock Kitchen
- Lily & Fig (also offering bread now!)
- Breukelen Coffee House
- The Pulp and The Bean
- J's Wok (coming soon)
- First Impressions Dental
- MySpace NYC (realtors)
- Rapid Realty
- 24-Hour Laundromat (at Park, the name escapes me)

During that same 16-month span, Bristen's owner Carleen Haughton has created the Franklin Flea, Nam's has continued its renovations as an overstuffed organic bodega (now carrying some high-end microbrews), Bombay Masala has opened a back garden, and the Crown Heights CSA has just finished a successful first year. All this, of course, has taken place in the midst of what many experts are calling the worst economic conditions since FDR was in charge.

Franklin's still the Franklin of yore (the one that made my Brooklyn-born boss exclaim "oh shit!" when I told him I was living there) on occasion, whether through the benign, colorful presence of 7 storefront churches and at least 10 bodegas on the commercial strip or the malignant tragedy of the shootings that rattled the avenue this summer. But to quote Buffalo Springfield, there's something happening here, and that, to my mind, is the story.


  1. thank you for writing this -- these are my thoughts exactly. i have lived here for coming up on 4 years and have seen all the changes you listed, in addition to a dress boutique (now closed sadly) and About Time. I wish that the article had put what was going on in a more realistic perspective and not such a narrow "two coffee shops are fighting" light.

    with that said, I am excited for the expansions of both coffee shops as well. If The Breukelen Coffee House has lots of seating, I think it will really fill a niche that many people are looking for. I love Pulp and Bean due to their bagels and chai - and i hope the addition of more food is good and not an over-extension of themselves.

    thanks again for this.

  2. Well said my friend!

  3. Well said Nick.

    More heart and better writing for free online than we get in that $2 rag.

  4. Check out Fisher's twitter for all the reasons Breukelen sucks, and think about the meaning of the word 'hypocrite'.

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