Jeremy Lyman and Paul Schlader, the owners of Birch Coffee in New York City, spend much of their time in their cafés just chatting with customers, learning who they are, what they do, what they like about the café, what needs work.
Unlike at most shops, chances are good that these two will end up talking with a minor celebrity or someone making national news or creating amazing art or starting a killer new business. That’s especially true of their 27th Street location, which sits between Fifth and Madison avenues in the Flatiron District. In one conversation Lyman asked a woman what she did and she gave a blasé, oh, I run a company, response. “Well, she’s a Forbe’s Thirty Under Thirty,” says Lyman, referring to the prestigious list of young movers-and-shakers.
Conversations like this happened so often the two decided to make an interview show. Stay Regular’s second season begins on March sixteenth to be released on Birch’s website. The series is one of the most innovative ways a café is connecting to its customers and showcasing the qualities that make it worth a visit.
The interviews run from five to eight minutes and were shot in the Flatiron café. They’re shot in a gorgeous nook in the shop, with a long hardwood table pointing out to the viewer, making them feel like they’re sitting in on the conversation. A pair of bookcases and a chalkboard with the names of the interviewer and guest give the videos a clean, even stately backdrop.
Lyman and Schlader trade hosting duties and both are natural interviewers, quickly showing how they were able to learn these details about their customers in the first place.
The videos don’t just introduce us to the regulars; they also show how important a café can be for a community. At the start of the first interview, Schlader is sitting with Peyton Jenkins, a cofounder of men’s clothier Alton Lane, and trying to recall when they first met. “Was Alton Lane launching at the same time?” “Yeah,” says Jenkins. “So we were launching but we still didn’t have any office space or a showroom. So Birch became our office.”
If the production seems beyond what you could pull off, it was for Birch, too. The original idea was to sit the guests at the table and point one camera at the pair. Instead, a friend who owns SightSense Productions, a video production company, offered to work them. Over a weekend, the eleven interview subjects for the first season came in for twenty-minute interviews. SightSense used four cameras (one pointed at the table, one for each of the guests, and a roving handheld camera), which created a dynamic final product complete with cuts and reaction shots.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in traffic to the site,” Lyman says. “We have gotten more social media followers from it. But it’s also a way to help these people grow their own brands. Marcello (Pacheco, better known as DJ Eco) really pushed it, and he has tens of thousands of followers.”
Often, a café’s social media and marketing efforts are for connecting to their customers. Birch has shown that the customers can be the medium.
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor.