This GQ Magazine article epitomises the camaraderie of Aussies – even from the other side of the world!
How The Aussie Owners Of This Brooklyn Cafe Are Supporting Their Community Through The Pandemic
SAMANTHA HILLMAN, 7 MAY 2020
When life hands you an unprecedented global virus, Raise a Cup.
Ryan De Remer moved to New York from Australia nine years ago. The city was a different beast back then – the Lower East Side was still grungy and the Brooklyn borough of Williamsburg hadn’t been infiltrated by the presence of corporate giants (yet). When De Remer and fellow Aussie Luke Woodard opened Sweatshop, a Melbourne-style coffee shop and design studio in Williamsburg in 2014, the neighbourhood was still a little how-ya-going in places.
Tucked under a tenement building on Metropolitan Avenue, Sweatshop was one of the first coffee shops to bring Australia’s elusive brand of laid-back-but-cool hospitality to Brooklyn. Not to mention the eponymous flat white. A cosy bolthole, it’s the kind of place you want to linger inside long after your coffee has been served and drained, whether it’s to chat with the baristas or to soak up the creative energy that’s bouncing between freelancers on the cafe’s communal table.
Today, Aussie coffee shops are the wellspring and beating heart of New York’s coffee and cafe scene. Once fuelled almost exclusively by bodega drip coffee, which at worst tastes like dishwater and at best makes you hallucinate, New Yorkers now (well, pre-Covid) hit up spots like Sweatshop, and it’s newly-opened sister cafe Bright Side, for their morning brew.
But when Covid-19 hit the city, strangling its residents and decimating its hospitality industry, the Australians responsible for caffeinating the metropolis that never sleeps quickly learned that not only were they out of work, but that getting any financial assistance through the CARES Act (the U.S. Government’s coronavirus stimulus package) was going to be virtually impossible for anyone without American citizenship.
De Remer acknowledges it’s both shitty and ironic, the situation he and countless other Australians who have launched successful businesses and contributed to the city find themselves in. But he’s also a solutions man; an entrepreneur who understands that if America won’t help its expat coffee scene, the expat coffee scene must help itself. So, after corroborating with a few of his fellow Australian cafe owners, the ‘Raise a Cup’ initiative was born, to “help support local Aussie cafe battlers.”
Here, we chat with the Sweatshop owner behind the poster and initiative that’s quietly raising much-needed funds for the hundreds of now-jobless Australians who have shown New Yorkers how to do coffee right.
Going out to get coffee is still relatively easy for people in Australia. Can you paint us a picture of the situation you, and other cafe owners and workers, are facing in New York right now?
Well, there’s no concept of ‘weekend traffic’ or the ‘commuter coffee rush’ at the cafe anymore, so weekends and weekdays are all the same. We’ve had to close Sweatshop, but our cafe Bright Side is big enough to remain open, so we’ve signed up to a [third party] delivery service and we’re doing curbside pickup.
Our customers are so patient, lining up six feet apart, waiting calmly for far longer than they’ve ever had to normally, seeing as we can only let a certain amount of people inside at a time.
That must’ve been a tough pivot to make, given both cafes are so communal.
Yeah, we had to transform our business from the ‘come and work here’ friendly hangout that it was to a no-touch, delivery and pickup based one, pretty much overnight. We started Sweatshop five, nearly six years ago, with the idea of it being the sort of place we’d actually like to hang out. We were set on it being a community, in that warm and friendly banter-y way that so many Australian cafes are. The cafe isn’t really “ours” anymore – the neighbourhood really feels as though the space belongs to them, which is what we hoped it would be.
That community is totally due to our staff, and they’re the ones who are struggling right now. Australian hospitality workers don’t have access to the same government support networks as their American counterparts, yet they’ve still have the same bills coming in and rent due.
Is this what really motivated you to launch Raise a Cup?
We wanted to do something not only to help our own staff, but the community that’s been such a big part of our lives over here. We launched Raise a Cup to bring in a bit of much-needed cash for laid-off Aussies, but also to bring awareness to the current struggles of the Australian expat coffee community over here.
And how does Raise a Cup do this?
We’ve designed a poster that features the coffee cups of the Australian cafes in New York – places like Bluestone Lane, Ruby’s, Two Hands, Good Thanks – all of your first point-of-calls when you step off the plane at JFK and need to be revived by a good Aussie coffee. All proceeds [from poster sales] are split equally between the cafes featured. It’s also a way to raise awareness about Australian coffee shops – hopefully people can discover a new one, and those discoveries will lead to more business once everything reopens.
Why a poster?
It’s more fun than just donating, and we wanted to be able to give people something back for their generosity. Plus, buying a poster eliminates any stress of wondering how much (and where) you should donate. As a designer with a coffee shop, an illustrated coffee poster was a no-brainer. We’ve raised over $13k so far and 100 percent of profits go to the currently out-of-work guys behind the coffee machines.
That’s amazing. Where can we buy one?
Are you hopeful things in New York will reopen? And if so, when?
I’m one of those annoyingly optimistic people by nature. New Yorkers are tough. New York hospitality is even tougher and I know we will come through this. The rest of 2020 is going to be a bumpy road however you spin it, but we are taking everything day by day. What our business or the broader cafe landscape will look like on the other side? That’s a different question entirely. I have no idea, but I’m confident better days will come.
What’s keeping you motivated right now (other than coffee)?
The outpouring of support for small businesses from our local community has been incredible. People are so appreciative, even more so than before – thanking us for staying open, for offering them a little glimpse of normality and routine. Also, our coffee family. They call us the ‘Australian mafia’. We all deal with the same unique set of problems that come with opening a coffee business in a foreign city. We all help each other out, offer support and reassurance – and now more than ever.
Feature image article source: https://www.instagram.com/sweatshop_nyc/