What do you get when you combine a fifth-generation coffee connoisseur with a dash of edge, style, and entrepreneurial drive? Introducing: Paper Plane Coffee Co. This Pop-Up Coffee Shop has been a top feature at our Williamsburg location for almost a year now, caffeinating customers for a full day of Brooklyn shopping adventures. In addition to Paper Plane's unique brand vision, the addition of fun "mocktail" concoctions to their menu offering sets them apart from industry peers. Founder, head roaster (and one-man show!) Jon sat down with us to tell us more about his business, his go-to coffee order, and what he does when he's not on the (coffee) grind.
Introduce yourself to the Artists & Fleas community via your favorite musician or band:
Ufff! Why is this always the toughest question? I've always wondered if some people have a direct answer for this when asked like, "Kenny G! He's my go to in the morning, evening, and even when I dream. The soothing sax breathes wind into the sails of which my life flows" or something like that. Maybe I should have a go to musician as well. Bob Marley, or Cake maybe. My music taste is ever growing. I listen to everything, really.
What inspired you to start Paper Plane Coffee Co.?
Its in my blood... No, really! It's a condition. (laughs) Well, I'm a fifth-generation Colombian coffee grower. We've had our farm in my family for about 70 years, but my great great grandfather was one of the first people to bring coffee to the region where we're from in Colombia. Although my brothers and I were born here in the United States, we would spend our entire summers on our grandparent's farm. I remember waking up at 5am to help my grandfather milk the cows and then after he'd strap on my basket and I'd help collect coffee. On my mother's side, coffee trees literally saved their lives. During the great violence of the 50's and 60's in Colombia the town where they lived was a battleground. They would sometimes have to hide in the coffee fields at night under the coffee trees for safety. The name is a play on words. It comes from the fact that our second farm higher in the plains of the mountain grows eucalyptus for the national paper company. I used to joke and call them the Paper Plains. So underneath the paper plains is where we grow our coffee. All of that combined inspired me to start Paper Plane Coffee Co. I have a debt to pay to coffee.
What attracted you to open up your coffee shop at Artists & Fleas?
I found Artists & Fleas to be so attractive. It was inviting and I loved the mantra. There's a really strong creative energy that emanates from it. It's inspiring. Couple that with the fact that, hell, people need coffee. It just seemed like a wonderful pairing.
What do you think sets you apart from other coffee shops in NYC?
Ummmm, well, it can tough to be innovative with coffee. Most people stick to their guns when it comes to their cup of joe. They're comfortable with what they're used to. Dark roasts, milk, sugar, flavored syrups. The run of the mill cafés just try and keep up with whatever the mermaid is doing, others are focused on the third wave of coffee which is lighter roasts, single origins, and a bit of purism. I like to operate in the limbo between the two. Giving people delicious, fresh roasted coffee, while also creating fun concoctions with the beverage to challenge the norms of how we view flavor pairings. One of our most popular drinks, the Rusky, is pretty much a Moscow mule made with espresso instead of vodka. How many other places are you going to get that?
What advice might you have for anyone looking to get into a similar career?
Love it. Love it 100%. Let it be your driving force. Let it excite you every day. Because it can tear you to pieces if you let it. Coffee is so much more than throwing raw beans into a hot skillet till its black, then pulverizing it and brewing it in water.
What is your go-to coffee order?
It really all depends on my mood, and if I've eaten anything. I love a really good latte if I'm hungry, or a nice pour over if I've eaten. If I'm thirsty, my go-to is probably the Rusky (Gingerbeer, lime, espresso) my new Hattori Hanzo (jasmine tea, yuzu, and lime soda, with espresso) or the Juan Palmer (brown sugar limeade with espresso).
When you are not busy building your business, what are some things you love to do in your spare time?
Same thing we do every night Pinky, try and take over the world. (laughs) I try to always be creative in my spare time. I've been acting since I was 8, so I still audition for stuff. I primarily do voices now. You may have recently heard me as the voice of a Friskies cat. Other than that, I try and spend time with my girlfriend and her daughter. It gets me away from everything for a bit. It's nice.
A mantra that you live by:
Spread love, be happy. We are all fighting are own unique battles, and the truth is we're not getting out of this alive. So the less of a dick you can be, the better.
Lastly, if you had to choose one song that captures the essence of your business/brand, what would that be?
Probably "Under Pressure" by David Bowie and Queen.