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Coffee Talk: Irvington’s New Cafe Culture

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June 19, 2024

By Shana Liebman–

Irvington is quickly becoming the rivertown’s capital of cafe culture. In addition to The Black Cat, the Red Barn and the newish Wildcraft Baking Company, two fantastic coffee shops just opened.

Ludy Cafe

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Ludy, which opened June 2 in the former Brrzaar space by the train station, is sleeker and more modern than its predecessor. It has bright white walls and a new layout that is vertical to the train tracks. The minimalist, artisanal cafe sells Proud Mary coffee, pastries from the Pelham-based, women-owned Flour Power and single-origin tea from Spirit Tea.

Owners Tim and Ashley Akapo, who live in Ardsley, named the cafe after their two sons (Lucas and Dylan). Tim, who is originally from Nigeria but lived in Australia, left a 20-year-long career in supply chain management to open Ludy, which is modeled after a cafe in Melbourne. He spent years learning how to access remote farmers, process and roast cacao beans, and deliver coffee for consumption.

The menu board at Ludy’s

“Like wine, diving into the different levels of roasts, grinds, water impacts, milk impact, the yields, and ultimately the tasting notes, is fun,” Tim says. “There is a lot of work and pain to open up a shop front, however seeing the space and idea come to life is well worth it.”

Ludy’s grand opening on June 15, celebrated with balloons and bubbles, was packed with local families enjoying free sandwiches — which are also now on sale, to be followed by single-serve ice cream. And there are other plans in the works.

“We are working on refurbishing and re-opening the adjacent garden space so that customers can enjoy their coffee in the sunshine,” Tim says. “While we grow the community of customers, we hope to start roasting our own beans as well.”

Don Carvajal

A few blocks up Main Street is Don Carvajal, which Hector Carvajal opened in May after five years of selling his Dominican coffee at the Irvington and Hastings Farmer’s Market. Since Don Carvajal’s festive and well-attended opening, several TikTok videos (as well as good reviews) have led to hundreds of weekend customers. And apparently, it’s not only rivertowners showing up. ”They come from Long Island, New Jersey. We’ve had people come from Boston, from Philly, literally just driving here just to drink coffee,” Carvajal says.

At Carvajal, the coffee is Dominican

Carvajal grew up in the countryside of the Dominican Republic where coffee is not only a significant export but also a central component of culture. “When you visit somebody’s home, the first thing they offer you before they offer you a glass of water is a cup of coffee or a cafecito. It’s a welcoming gesture. It’s something that brings people together.”

When he moved to New York, Carvajal was shocked to find that there was little Dominican coffee in a city that loves its coffee. “I just felt like there wasn’t enough representation in the specialty market,” he says. “I never saw a brand selling single-origin coffee from the Dominican Republic.”

He changed that in 2019. While still a student at the University of Rochester, he created sustainable relationships with Dominican farmers; then he started importing and roasting their coffee, selling it at popups, farmers markets, and select coffee shops in the city. Word got out, and the money came in — from a Kickstarter campaign, investors, and corporate partners like Oatly. (Carvajal’s coffee is now sold in Whole Foods markets.)

Unfortunately, COVID and a series of other misfortunes (Hurricane Ida, an accidental fire, etc.) repeatedly deterred him from finding a place of his own. Then one Sunday, after selling coffee at the Irvington Farmer’s Market, he spotted a for-lease sign in the storefront of the former Suzanne’s Table on Irvington’s Main Street. “And then my brain started turning, and then I started really getting into it. And then boom,” he says.

When he checked out the space, Carvajal, who lives in the Bronx, knew it was the perfect spot for his kind of cafe. He designed the interior to represent vintage New York, but “then the vibe is like, let me also take you to the Dominican Republic and feel like you’re on vacation while you’re sipping here, or you’re eating here and just make you feel like you’re disconnected for a second,” he says.

A small record player plays classical music from Dominican culture, as well as salsa from Puerto Rico and Columbia. “There are no Bluetooth speakers here. We literally go back to LPs from back in time. The space is very welcoming. It’s very warm, it’s very minimalistic, but stylish and vintage and modern.”

A traditional Dominican breakfast

Because the space featured a kitchen, Carvajal roped his buddy, Stephen “Chef Papi” Rodriguez (who has cooked for Cardi B and JLo), into designing a menu that includes a typical Dominican breakfast (mashed plantains, eggs, fried salami, cheese, pickled onions), as well as a chopped salad, vegan bowl, and avocado toast. “It’s a small menu, but I feel like it hits every demographic. It makes everybody happy,” he says.

Despite the fact that several coffee shops have recently opened around town, Carvajal is not sweating the competition. “I just think that they are who they are and I am who I am, and I’m just so unique in what we do that it doesn’t really interfere with what they do and what I do.”

Carvajal on the spot previously occupied by Suzanne’s Table

He continues: “This is more of a specialty coffee shop where you might have to wait five minutes for your drink and if that’s okay with you, great. If you’re just in a rush and you’re complaining because it didn’t take 30 seconds, maybe you need to go.”

And if that’s the case, don’t worry — Irvington is now flush with cafes.

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