The Unbearable Banishment: david v. goliath new york version

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

david v. goliath new york version

This is my coffee cart guy. Do you see him there? On the right, behind the white car? He’s a nice guy from Alexandria. He’s got seven brothers and one sister back home in Egypt. He misses them, but he always seems to be in a good mood.

Everyone who works in New York has their own coffee cart guy. It’s part of the fabric of the city. You establish a rapport with him and you don’t buy coffee anywhere else. Eventually, he’ll know your order and if he sees you approaching, he’ll greet you with it already in the bag.

My guy sets up right in front of the Starbucks on 41st and Broadway. I like his nerve! I’ve always identified with the underdog because that’s all I’ve ever been. I’m just regular. Plus, his coffee costs a small fraction of what I’d pay at Starbucks. Fuck Starbucks. I’m sticking with little guy. Especially in the winter when he’s out there in the cold.

Each morning we exchange the same banter. I make fun of his coffee and he makes fun of my clothes.

When are you going to start selling some decent coffee?

As soon as your wife buys you a new shirt. How many times are you going to wear that thing?!

We have a laugh, bid each other adieu and head off into our day, hoping it won’t be too wretched.

While he’s preparing my coffee, I’ll turn around and look in the window of Starbucks. All you see are the tops of people’s heads because their faces are buried in smart phones, frantically texting and ignoring the world around them. Times Square is just outside the front door to the right but they might as well be in Broken Bow, Nebraska for all it matters. Idiots.

Final score: Humanity: 1 Starbucks: nil



Blogger Sid said...

I've always had the desire to visit NY. One of the reasons for my absolutely fascination with the city is all those food carts (selling hot dogs) I happen to see in the Law and Order shows.

August 4, 2009 at 5:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i read somewhere that starbucks is supposedly good to employees - providing benefits even for most part time workers. guess that's why the coffee costs $5. but i'm a fan of the independent... but i don't get the 'coffee cart' experience... small town.

when i travel to larger cities, i like to hit them, though. calling them "the roach coach" makes me feel a little lousy, but i buy the coffee...

August 4, 2009 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Barlinnie said...

I'd use the little fella every time. And kudos to him for setting up outside of the bigger competition.

August 4, 2009 at 7:38 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Sid: A lot of New Yorkers are turned off by food carts but you can find some surprisingly delicious and inexpensive food if you know where to look. There's more than just hot dogs!

Daisy: I have also heard about the benevolence of Starbucks, but I feel an allegiance to my coffee cart guy.

Jimmy: That's why I use him! He has GUTS!

August 4, 2009 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger Leah said...

What a wonderful photo, and yeah, that guy's got major balls. The coffee cart was such a happy part of my day when i was still part of the Manhattan workforce. 57th St & 10th Ave, rain shine & terrorist attack.

So have you ever eaten from one of those delicious-smelling carts with the dubious-looking heaps of grilling meat? I've never had the nerve but they're so alluring...

August 4, 2009 at 8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You would not have that type of welcoming at Starbucks I bet. We have one inside our office where I work (and it not a huge office building) they took away the flavored coffee machine's in the cafeteria when they purchased a Starbuck's Franchise. I refuse to support it, I will stop on the way at my local Speedway gas station before I give the corporation any of my money.

August 4, 2009 at 8:36 AM  
Anonymous popomatic Jeff said...

I have a list of things I miss about living in NYC. It's a short list but my old coffee guy is close to the top.

As for Starbucks, they might offer good PR benefits to their employees but those employees are still treated like cogs in a machine.

August 4, 2009 at 9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my favourite rant about Starbucks

I've heard/seen too many stories about the "big guy" coming in (eg. Wal-Mart) and driving all the local businesses into closing. And then they'll up and leave, leaving the community with....nothing.

Starbucks has made inroads up here but the more popular coffee stop, by far, is Tim Horton's. Mind you, it's more of a "common man" kind of place. Starbucks seems to have more snob appeal than anything. There's a chain called "Second Cup" which is analogous to Starbucks (and was here first, homegrown, I think) and continues to compete.

I try to patronize the little/local guy when I can. Home Depot recently opened up in our little town and, although I've bought stuff there, I try to preferentially patronize Totem (a western Canadian chain) or our local Home Hardware Building Centre.

I, too, have heard of Starbuck's treatment of its employees (being good and all) and yet I regard them with the same suspicion as I do all large corporations. Large corporations have never really done anything good for humanity. Some will argue differently, but when you add up pluses and minuses, I bet you'll find the answer is negative.

Good for you for helping your coffee cart guy take care of his family back home.

August 4, 2009 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Thats such a nice thing to have. I'd like a coffee cart bloke, except I dont drink coffee. Does he do frappacinos, hot chocolates, peppermint tea or milk shakes?

August 4, 2009 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Leah: YES! I have indulged in street meat many times. I understand there's a certain "ick" factor for a lot of people but if you can get past it you're in for a real treat. Yum-yum!

MT: That's it. Stick with the little guy. It runs in the family!

Jeff: People don't understand that you really do form a relationship with these guys and look forward to seeing them in the morning.

Rob: Not only that, their coffee tastes crappy and burnt to me.

Jo: No, yes, no and no.

August 4, 2009 at 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm all for supporting the independent guy. the fact that i find Starbucks coffee to taste only fair at the best only makes me more likely to hit the indie. same with restaurants and other stores. given the choice of a mom-and-pop or a big, national chain, i'd prefer the mom-and-pop. good on ya!

August 4, 2009 at 5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try visiting the Juan Valdez coffee shop right across the street if you want real coffee

August 4, 2009 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Gnu: I'm hoping there's a backlash against big chains that results in a return to the mom-n-pop stores. All the independent drug stores in New York City were wiped out by a horrible chain called Duane Reade. The stores are ugly and the employees are all rude. It's amazing! Every employee is an asshole! No matter which of the hundreds of stores you're in!

Anon: Fuck Juan Valdez, too. I'm sticking with my cart guy.

August 4, 2009 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger JZ said...

I wish Raleigh were big enough to sustain even one coffee cart. Up until about a year ago, the local coffee shops' brew paled in comparison to Starbucks, IMO. I know, I know, blasphemy....but, hell, i couldn't even bear to become a regular at the coffee shop that i DESIGNED. Then came along The Morning Times. Thank god for them. All visitors to Raleigh, check it. You will be happy.

In the meantime, I recommend to all those Second City or suburban folkies: make your own. travel with a press pot. Then when you're pressed, slipping the evil empire a few coin won't be such a bad thing.....

August 4, 2009 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger A Free Man said...

Good on you. These big chains can bite me. Most of the Starbucks in Australia shut down about nine months ago and not many people were sad to see them go.

August 4, 2009 at 10:45 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

JZ: Actually, a lot of people at A Company Called Malice, Inc. bring a thermos with coffee to work. It's the wave of the future!

AFM: Is that true? Starbucks is all but out of business in Oz? That's incredible! It's enough to give you hope.

August 5, 2009 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger mynamesnotbarbara said...

I've got my morning newspaper man. He has terrible cataracts, smells like parsley, and has a stutter. But he's the only person in my 40-minute commute that actually greets me "Hello." He makes my day.

August 5, 2009 at 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Calamity said...

You asked for it: you've been reviewed.

August 5, 2009 at 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See...that's exactly what I'm talking about--the essence of the city. (If that doesn't make sense, go read the review linked in Calamity's comment.)

August 5, 2009 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger Mongolian Girl said...

We live just off of a little country highway that about 2000 people travel down every day to go to work in the city. We've talked about opening a crusty little coffee stand along the road. I'll bet we could steal tons of business from Starbucks.
They're bastards and their coffee seriously sucks.

August 5, 2009 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Great post, most of the Starbucks in Sydney have now shut down; the coffee here is so good there's no need for Starbucks-- it tasted awful here too.

Good for you-- and your coffee cart man.

August 5, 2009 at 8:23 PM  
Blogger Marinka said...

I admit it, I'm a Starbucks junkie. But I do get the daily satisfaction of seething over them getting my order wrong, so there's that, at least.

August 5, 2009 at 11:12 PM  

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