Interview: Two Hands Cafe in New York City

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There’s been some buzz about a little Australian cafe in New York City, sandwiched right between Little Italy and Chinatown – talk about international! The talk stems from excellent coffee, munch-able snacks, a gorgeous location, and the love and dedication of the two Sydney-born owners, Giles Russell and Henry Roberts. Luckily Josephine, a recent NYC transplant, made a visit to provide us with some mouthwatering photos, and the story behind them. -Amy

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What inspired you to open your Cafe? What makes you get up early or stay up late to do what is generally considered to be some of the hardest work out there?

Opening a cafe offered us the opportunity to combine all of our passions in one place. Both Henry and I are obsessed with coffee and good food, so that provided the perfect point from which to start our journey. We both love meeting and talking with people, so opening a cafe meant we could be doing that every hour of every day. We both love design, music and art and having a creative space meant we would have the opportunity to bring all those aspects into the one room, a sort of blank canvas to paint whatever creative picture we felt like painting that day, week or month.

But the number one reason is the people. The people with whom we work and the amazing people that come into the cafe every day. Everyone is so openly passionate about what they do in New York, so enthusiastic to collaborate and create. Each day brings new adventures.

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What is your vision for Two Hands Cafe?

Our vision was to create a community-centric cafe that focused on delivering great coffee alongside healthy, simple food and drinks. We aim for a simple and relaxed service style that makes it easy to pick up something healthy and tasty, even when you’re on the go.

We also felt NYC was missing a coffee shop that was full of life; full of people meeting and conversing and creating. It’s a very Australian thing for the local cafe to be the real congregation point where people come together over a few coffees. While that exists in New York, it’s mellower. In Australia cafes are bustling, loud and full of life – we wanted to bring that culture to NYC.

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Can you explain the story behind your name, Two Hands?

The name was originally inspired by Heath Ledger’s first film by the same name. The initial appeal came from both the film and Heath being Australian, without it being too obvious. Heath was inspirational to both of us, in his acting career and in his vision to open Five Leaves in Brooklyn, which we both love so much. But even beyond that, we felt that it had so many meanings; you use your two hands to create things, and that’s what we did with the cafe. It also represents the handshake that started this business and the many high fives we’ve given each other during this crazy process.

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What’s been the greatest struggle in opening your business?

To be honest, we have been so blessed so far. Construction is always a tricky process with all the regulations, delays, and unforeseen problems lying under floors — but even that was a lot of fun. The hours can be challenging: 7:00am to 10:00pm, 7 days a week is always tough, but when you see your business growing and changing it just spurs you to work harder. There’s no feeling like putting in a huge effort and then seeing the result when people tell you how much they love what you’ve done.

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What are your favorite items on the menu?

We designed the menu to be a little bit of everything we like, so we can’t pick one favorite (they’re essentially all our favorites)! And that’s how we want it to be for the people who come in to the cafe. We want there to be something on the menu for them for each day of the week, so things never gets stale or old. There are plenty of people who come in and get the same thing everyday, but on that one day they choose to have something else, we want everything else to be as good as their staple order.

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What do you eat when no one is looking?

You can’t beat avocado on toast: a nice thick cut of multigrain bread, toasted and covered in a thick layer of deliciously ripe avocados with salt, pepper, olive oil and chill flakes. It never gets old. It’s also on our menu!

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What’s next for the business? 

We opened at the very end of June, so honestly its been a complete whirlwind and we haven’t had much time to think about what comes next. Right now we just want to really focus on our initial goal for the cafe, which is to become a community staple, a place where people can meet their friends or coworkers, eat delicious food, and drink the best coffee in New York City.

We’re constantly coming up with new ideas for the menu, inspired by what’s in season or what we’ve seen in other restaurants/cafes in NYC and beyond. So we’re excited to get deeper into creating a uniquely delicious menu.

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Share a little tip to inspire a home cook.

Keep it simple and use the best quality produce. The most delicious dishes are always the simplest (which means they’re also the easiest to prepare). Don’t try and do too much, because all it takes is three or four ingredients to make a spectacular tasting dish. And those dishes will also only taste amazing if the produce you use tastes amazing. A kale salad will never tastes great unless the kale is in season, fresh and preferably organic. Many people forget that the meals they’re eating is the sum of all the ingredients they are putting in it.

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What’s the best homemade food gift you’ve ever received?

You can’t beat homemade jam. Maybe it’s that it took that person hours of love and labor to prepare, maybe its because it’s a breakfast thing and you can look forward to having it each morning, or maybe it’s just because jam is so deliciously sweet, that perfect medium between naughty and nice.

I remember so clearly anticipating our yearly trip to New Zealand to visit my Aunty Hinny; she makes the most delicious raspberry jam on earth and I’d eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner the whole time we were there. She’d always give me a jar to take home to Australia (which would be finished in a matter of days), and then I’d have to wait a whole year to return to get my fix again. Luckily my Aunty taught my mum all her secrets, so our house was always stocked with the most delicious homemade jams and marmalade!

If you want to pop over to Two Hands, you can find them at 164 Mott St New York, NY, and at their Facebook Page.

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Photos taken and styled by Joesphine Rozman.

Eat Boutique discovers the best small batch foods by boutique food makers and shares our version of #foodgiftlove. We share recipes, maker stories and city guides to eating boutique. We host tasting events and markets for food makers, cookbook authors and food fans. We craft seasonal, regional gift and tasting boxes and sell individual items that you can order in the Eat Boutique Shop. You can also follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagramTumblr and Pinterest.

Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista–shop girl, writer, author, and creative business coach. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is working to open her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food–as well as coaching women in food to reach life and business goals. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: 100 Recipes to Encourage a Healthy Relationship with Food, Nourish Your Beautiful Body, and Celebrate Real Wellness for Life, will be published by Roost Books on February 5, 2019. 

Follow Maggie Battista here: InstagramTwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.

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