In the weeks since superstorm Sandy ravaged Long Beach, Gentle Brew Coffee Roasters demonstrated that a coffee shop needs precisely three things to function: coffee beans, bottled water and, most importantly, heart.
On the Wednesday following the storm, Bryan Baquet, Mike Shcherbenko and Pat Luyster assessed their store’s damage: It had taken in about 18 inches of water and there was no power or water. On the upside, the water had not reached the level of the beans, which the partners smartly had placed on tables. “Mostly we just lost paper cups,” said employee Ian Terry.
So, they opened up for business. Gentle Brew’s stock in trade is carefully crafted espresso drinks made from fair-trade, organic coffee, but the crew quickly shifted gears. “We brought in bottled water and gas burners and a percolator that ran on butane” Shcherbenko said. “We either boiled water to make individual cups in the French press, or used the percolator.” What little electricity they were able to draw from their small generator, they used to roast and grind beans. Milk came from shelf-stable boxes of Parmalat.
That first day, Shcherbenko said, it was only Gentle Brew and Park Avenue Wines & Liquors that were open along Park Avenue. “We asked for $1 donation for a cup of coffee, but if people didn’t have it, they didn’t pay. Some people just gave us a $20 and told us to keep the change.”
As Long Beach’s ice rink began to overflow with donations of clothing and toiletries, Gentle Brew took up the slack. The store is now filled with racks and tables full of coats and has become a community relief center. “People just come in and take what they need,” Shcherbenko said. “And the donations have been coming in from as far away as Sayville.”
Despite its severely reduced circumstances, Gentle Brew has nothing but high-quality beans from which to brew coffee. Yesterday, in the midst of all of Long Beach’s devastation, I enjoyed an excellent cup of Costa Rican.
Gentle Brew Coffee Roasters, 151 E. Park Ave., Long Beach, 516-605-2370 (phone not currently working).
Parners Mike Shcherbenko, left, and Pat Luyster at Gentle Brew in Long Beach