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Sweetleaf merges coffee with cocktails

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March 13, 2013 By Bill Parry

Long Island City, NY: When Sweetleaf opened its latest operation at 46-15 Center Blvd. two weeks ago, there were many kinks to iron out.

This store was different from its other two coffee shops—best known for their espresso bar and baked goods. This one features a cocktail lounge at night—with its trademark coffee shop being a day-time operation. Furthermore, the store represents the coming together of two local businesses.

The owners of Sweetleaf have brought in Richard Boccato, the owner of Dutch Kills Bar, to be part of this venture. Boccato brings the expertise of running a cocktail lounge, while the owners of Sweetleaf will take care of running the coffee operation.

sweetleaf3“We have two completely different staffs,” said Sweetleaf co-owner Rich Nieto. “From 6am to 7:30pm it’s the coffeehouse staff, and starting at 4pm the bar staff starts to take over, finishing around 3:00 the following morning.”

Nieto and Al Arundel own two other Sweetleaf locations, the original one at 10-93 Jackson Ave. as well as a Williamsburg coffee shop that opened last year.

This latest venture came to be after TF Cornerstone approached them about taking over the Center Boulevard location. They were attracted by the potential customer base, since over 2,000 units are scheduled to be completed in the development over the course of the next 18 months.

However, prime retail space is not inexpensive. They devised a way to maximize its use by coming up with the 2-in-1 plan and brought in Boccato, the real cocktail impresario.

Boccato has introduced several coffee-based cocktails, including The Long Island City Special (blackstrap rum, coffee liqueur, agave syrup and seltzer) and The Revolver (bourbon, coffee liqueur and orange bitters).

The owners have developed an entirely new look conducive to the new opulence of the area. The original Sweetleaf has a laid back hipster feel in a 100 year old building, while Dutch Kills Bar evokes feelings of an old-fashioned speakeasy. The new Sweetleaf aims to combine this charm with a new luxury.

“You have to adapt to new surroundings,” Nieto said. “We tried to create a sanctuary, not sleek and modern. I thought if I lived in one of these new high rises where would I look to hang out? I think we captured that.”

Nieto said he has no plans on developing another Sweetleaf location anytime soon.

“I just want to get over the soreness of giving birth to four places in three spaces before we worry about any further growth,” he said with a laugh.

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