There are a few places where we can really connect with nature, and the beach is one of them. No matter how crowded a beach may be (okay…Coney Island aside), hearing the white noise of the crashing waves transports you to a place and time where nothing else seems to matter. Suddenly, we become tuned out to anything else except using all our senses to connect with that moment. You feel alive. And you want to share that feeling with everyone around you.
Somehow, Summers manages to evoke all those feelings with their tiny, 500 square foot space in the heart of Southside Williamsburg.
I was intrigued enough by my experience there that had to sit down with owners, Alex Kleinberg and Chris Taha, to try to uncover what makes it so special. And what I learned was a story of simplicity and authenticity.
Alex and Chris
The two met not more than a couple of years ago when Chris sat down for brunch at Clinton St. Baking Company—one of NYC’s trendiest brunch spots that also happens to be owned by Alex’s parents. Alex and Chris instantly bonded over their love of surfing before soon learning that they shared something else in common; they were both born (albeit on opposite coasts) into the restaurant business.
For the past 25 years, Alex’s dad has been grooming him. Alex has seen firsthand what it takes to turn a neighborhood gem into a successful, global brand (Clinton Street Baking Co. now boasts locations in New York City’s upper eastside, Tokyo and Dubai). This inspired Alex to study advertising and art direction at Pratt University; skills that he’s been able to put to good use at Summers.
Chris similarly grew up in the restaurant business. His dad owned a restaurant back in Palm Springs, California where Chris spent part of his youth. But that was just the beginning. Over three years ago, when he moved to New York City to pursue dental school, Chris took a job working at a restaurant in Little Italy. His humble NYC beginnings didn’t hold him back; soon he was working with the well-known Tao Group and the immensely popular Ippudo restaurant. He helped to staff and open eight different restaurants.
Chris’ and Alex’s surfing passion took them to Nicaragua in the winter of 2013. It was during that trip that the two decided they wanted to start their own food venture. They put very little definition around what it would be, except that it would perfectly meld with their healthy, active lifestyle and their love of good food. And they were determined to make it happen.
Making it Happen
After returning from their surf trip, they started looking for spaces. Several months later, they landed on a former bodega in Southside Williamsburg. What happened next is nothing short of amazing. The two went from signing a lease in July to opening Summers in August.
They accomplished it all in THREE WEEKS. How?
First, they let the space dictate the concept. A 500 square foot space was perfectly suited for a juice and coffee bar. While you’d likely never hear either Alex or Chris utter the words “juice cleanse”, the idea of fresh-pressed juice fit with their notion of healthy, wholesome, all-natural food.
Second, they knew they wanted the space to be a reflection of themselves—a place that would be welcoming to friends and neighbors—a home of sorts. This is where they really tapped into their surfing passion and what they derive from it (besides the thrill of catching that wave). The name “Summers” evokes the feeling of sun, fun and good friends. They brought that name to life with an interior that is a refreshing, unfussy and picnic-like. Various decorative elements like a surfboard play up the surf theme. And a projector plays surfing documentaries silently on the wall, creating a visual backdrop to gaze upon while you feast. Finally, the sand-colored floor and the herringbone-patterned wood elements in the space pay tribute to New York City’s famed surf spot, Rockaway Beach. With all of this, you can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped away from the city streets for a brief reprieve from your daily beating.
Third, and likely the biggest success factor to getting up and running so quickly, is how Alex and Chris approached decision-making. Alex and Chris might as well be poster kids for Nike’s ubiquitous “Just Do It” campaign. Once the lease was signed, and before even stepping into the space to work on it, the two sat down for hours to hammer out the details of the interior. They systematically attacked one thing at a time, making a decision and moving forward without looking back.
As Alex said during our interview,
“A lot of people talk about doing something like this. We did it.”
Growing with the Flow
Through their three-week planning process, Alex and Chris brought their vision to life by keeping things real and uncomplicated.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have grand ambitions. Just over six months into the business and they’re already talking about expansion. Alex even went so far to say that he’s waiting to surpass his parents and their Clinton Street Baking Company success.
That shouldn’t be hard since growth seems to be part of Chris’ and Alex’s DNA. In their short time of operating, they’ve grown and adapted to changing demands. For example, they quickly altered their juice and coffee bar concept to include simple “grab and go” or “stay and eat” lunch items such as sandwiches and soups made with fresh, organic ingredients. They continually tweak elements of their kitchen to optimize their operations. And they learned how to survive through the cold, quiet winter months by expanding their delivery orders through Seamless.com.
It’s been challenging and tiring, but undeniably exciting. When asked how they would know if the business had turned into something that no longer fit their vision, Alex’s response was “Why would that happen??”
These two guys clearly know who they are and what they want. Take that along with their “Just Do It” attitude and I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of Summers in the days to come.
Summers Juice and Coffee
155 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211