Small Business Spotlight: Social Missions Brew Business for Midtown Coffee Shop
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Bird & Branch Coffee Shop on 45th Street and 9th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan is brewing opportunity for those struggling to find work.
“It’s just in our face all the time like the great need that New Yorkers have and I just felt like what I did either helping out at a soup kitchen or giving money were just very small Band-Aids to a huge problem,” said owner Faith Lee on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight with Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.
Faith and her husband Brandon opened the store four and a half years ago not for a love of coffee but out of a mission to help New Yorkers overcome barriers to employment. They train mostly younger workers on soft skills that are transferrable to careers in retail and hospitality. Currently, six people work at Bird & Branch – down from 13 pre-pandemic.
“We allow them to sort of go through that process without the pressure of having to perform at the level we ultimately want them to perform at, but allows them to sort of grow into that space and I think people need that time,” she explained.
Bird & Branch Coffee Shop was awarded a $10,000 grant through Newell Brands’ “Made For More” Small Business Fund for their commitment in helping to restore the city through their skills training program. The makers of Ball® home canning products selected 10 small businesses for the grant out of about 2,000 applicants in recognition of those who have gone above and beyond in their local communities. The winners receive the grant, public relations support and exposure on the Ball home canning brand’s social media.
Faith was an opera singer for 10 years and Brandon worked in event marketing before they got into the coffee business with the help of friends and family who wanted to invest in their social mission.
“We were talking about it a lot to just our friends, random people we met, and every one of our investors actually approached us about investing,” Lee said. “We never pitched anyone.”
Sometimes the most effective sales strategy is not outwardly selling but letting one’s passion for his or her business shine through.
Bird & Branch is seeing a gradual increase in foot traffic now that some people have returned to work in Midtown offices more than a year after the pandemic ravaged the Big Apple. Their customer base changed in the pandemic from mostly commuters to Manhattanites living nearby.
During the height of the pandemic, they collected donations for breakfast meals they prepared for hospital workers. Lee told Connolly and Carousso that a number of her customers started inquiring about similar care packages to send their loved ones.
“We just started shipping out these care packages, which include baked goods that we make in-house as well just some other fun things,” she said. “People have been down or they haven’t seen each other in so long they just wanted to send their friends something and that has really enabled us to stay alive as well.”
Bird & Branch’s business pivot led to a full-time, profitable service.
See how to grow a business with a social mission on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.