A Walk Down Tarrytown's Main Street With Mike Love
A 16-year Main Street veteran, no one knows the ins and outs of this quaint business climate more than Mike Love.
Photos By Jonathan Ortiz
Strolling down Tarrytown’s Main Street, it feels as if everyone knows Mike Love. The longtime owner of Coffee Labs Roasters has been a figurehead in this community for enough time to have seen most of Main Street’s current local favorites get started, and it shows in his knowledge of the local business scene.
Tarrytown is a village steeped in history. But as it gains momentum as a hip, profitable downtown hub (see the forthcoming Edge-on-Hudson development project), the surrounding commercial climate and its key players will brace for change. Still, Tarrytown reps its small-town vibe to the core, and, as the everyday humans who frequent the mom-and-pops, antique shops, and homegrown hotspots can attest to, will always be its charming old self.
And no one knows that better than Mike Love.
How long has Coffee Labs been in Westchester?
This will be 16 years this coming May.
What do you like about having done business here that long?
Really community oriented. Everyone knows everyone. This is like — I guess if you were to say “small town America,” Main Street, Tarrytown kind of represents that.
You would say it’s the quintessential small town?
Yeah, it’s all small businesses, it’s a pretty good mix of business owners and entrepreneurs. The guys at the Taco Project are young, great guys, they got a great fresh business going.
Let’s see, Bistro 12, that was, when I moved here, Mi Bojito sandwich shop. And then it went, another owner took it on, kept it as Mi Bojito and then she closed, Bistro 12 opened.
And Mint started at the Taco Project and before that it was a freakin’ antique store. Tarrytown was an antique town.
What was the business climate like 16 years ago compared to how it is now?
Very different, it was a lot more local; weekend business was good. Tarrytown’s always been like this destination to head up to to antique. Plus you got the Rockefeller Estate, you got Lyndhurst. You have a huge number of historical stops so people will come up all the time.
I remember when we first opened, fresh out of the restaurant business, I had my bistro apron on, got on a nice shirt and I would sit in the window and I’m like ‘Hey! We’re open!’ to people going to 7/11, and it took a little bit. But it was a pretty quick catch on and you know, it was something different, there was no one around doing what we were doing.
No other coffee roasters in the area?
You had Mike [Grant] up at The Black Cow in Croton, and then you had David [Nadelson] at Aroma in Larchmont, there was really no one in between. And they were both really second wave roasters, like they had a very different view and idea of coffee selections.
They were all current and great, but when we opened up it was a different phase of the coffee industry and it was more direct sourcing, sustainability was, you know, a key factor. We opened up in 2003, I made my first direct buying trip in 2005.
So do you feel like this current generation is more welcoming of the coffee business?
100 percent. People became more and more aware of their spending dollar and where it was going, and when we started we were fair trade, rainforest, bird-friendly. We had all the certifications you can possibly get and it was great, but I really thought that it was all needed. Then we moved into more of a sustainable relationship with farmers as I started visiting and building relationships, then ultimately, we use importers, not as purchasers, strictly logistics and that’s really been the business for a lot of specialty end coffee roasters.
What we do is at farm level — much more personal, much more financially stable for the farmer. It costs more to produce a pound of coffee than a dollar an hour. So, I mean, right now, that’s why what we do is, I think, really different and really important because our farmers are getting minimum of $4.50-$5 a pound direct from us.
But Tarrytown, I mean, the climate of the town has changed as the older, the die-hard, the old-guard, is going.
So the town is up for more changes…
How do you think the town itself helps to facilitate either new businesses or the businesses that are already here?
There’s a great support system through the chamber, there’s a small local business board, and the town’s pretty good.
One thing the town — and it’s not Tarrytown exclusively it’s all the small municipalities in villages — they all got parking issues. Parking is a huge issue around there.
I mean, you go right over to Sleepy Hollow, and I know this is going to sound crazy but like, you get 20 minutes for a quarter, here you get 15.
Plus, we’ve got The Blacklist shot here, Boardwalk Empire, we have Divorce which shoots once a month here. And we get banged up, all the paparazzi, all the guys that are selling images to Getty, all those guys mob the shop. You know, it’s good, and it’s bad because they roll the trucks in and rigs and there goes all the parking.
Is there anything that you would like to see change?
Do I want to see Tarrytown change? Nah, it's super cool the way it is.
You know, change I just think is inevitable, it just kind of happens. What would I want to change? I don’t know dude, I could’ve opened anywhere, We’re opening in Dobbs Ferry, and we’ve had offers to open.
I would like to see traffic flow change, now that I’ve had a minute to ponder on that question, I kind of like that. Traffic flow, to put it bluntly, is going to be a fucking disaster once [Edge-on-Hudson] opens. If you look at it, you have a hotel, a movie theater, retail. A hotel alone, by service industry standards, is 2.5 employees per guest. So, you have 200 rooms, that’s you know… plus guests, the amount of traffic, sit around here from 5:30 p.m. when the train starts hitting, this is nuts. It’s absolutely nuts but what are they gonna do?
What I would love to see is — and this is the total hippie-crunchy part of me — is the street get locked to a walking street, I mean that would be super dope, but it’s completely unreasonable. I know it, I would love to see it, but I mean it would be great if there was nothing here and was a walking street.
We had a thing going where we were trying to get a hanging bike rack for like 10 bikes. I think the town needs it desperately. But business owners don’t like the idea of a bike lane or don’t like the idea of bike racks, it makes no sense to us. You got to understand, when they open that bridge, there’s going to be bikers going both ways, guess what, you want that money coming here or you want it going to Irvington?
You want those people here, and if there’s not a place for them to put their $8000, $5000, $10,000 rides … so we’re really pushing for that. That’s what I would like to see happen regardless, because honestly, whether they realize it or not, those bikers are going to want to eat, they’re going to want to stop.
You know, its more business and more business for everyone in town.
[Pointing off into the distance] Alberta, she might have a different opinion, she’s mean…
[Laughs] She’s not, she’s a sweetheart.
[To Alberta Jarane] Biggest trouble-maker in town, ain’t that right Alberta!? You’re trouble, trouble walking.
So what are some of your favorite places on Main Street?
Alright, so, kind of the haunt that I lurk the most is Twisted Oak. From Twisted Oak, it’s pretty much a balance between Twisted Oak and RiverMarket. Bibille is a staple.
I don’t really get my hair cut but if I do get my hair cut, Sebastian [Aliberti]. Homie right here is a staple, I shaved my head, and he does my beard but, Sebastian’s also a co-owner of The Taco Project.
Tarrytown is popping up on lists, so you know, there’s a definite reason.
You got this place, A Nu Toy Store. Some things are new, some things are not, new and used toys. Jill owned this, she was a pastry chef in the city. She passed three years ago, she had terminal breast cancer.
She opened, let’s see it was me, Mint, and Chiboust [Bistro] maybe a couple months apart, that was it, the Greek always been here. Santa Fay- staple in town, it’s been here 25 years.
Tarry Tavern, that used to be a place called Lago Di Como, he was 27 years. It was like the staple when you come for Italian food, that was it. They always had one of the biggest grappa selections. Now he owns an amazing, some of the best gelato I’ve had in my life, he’s in Connecticut now.
Flying Fingers, absolute staple in the town, she brings a lot, a lot of business to town — a knitting and yarn store. People drive from the city for this.
The Music Hall. I’ll tell you, when we first moved, we had our trouble back and forth. It was parking, it was just a disaster. Now we absolutely, pretty much love each other. We donate part of October’s sales, a percentage of their sales to fundraise.
Muddy Waters, that shop opened 2 years ago. It’s there, we’ve seen 3 coffee shops come and go here.
[Walking past iFIX 4U] This, I didn’t know how this was going to work. It’s needed though, it really is. He does a lot of business.
[Walking past Lefteris Gyro] This is a cash machine, this place, a cash machine. Honestly, it’s not the most amazing, it’s not like going down to the city and eating at Molyvos or anything. But, it’s consistent, it’s cheap and it’s good, and believe it or not, the octopus that Bobby brings in, the manager at Lefteris, is actually on point. And I’m really picky.
We lost Silver Tips Teahouse. Interesting thing about her though, this, everyone thought this was just a teahouse open from 11-6, she had all these great teas, but little did everyone know, she was one of the largest importers of tea into the US. She owns Eco Prima Teas. She used to supply Big Boys before they got their direct relationships.
Do you know what happened to them?
They just wanted to focus on the wholesale. It sucks, it was great for the town, it was cool, we bought her teas. Now we carry more now that she’s not here, but we carry very limited. Everything that we do, everything is local. Flour & Sun bakery in Pleasantville — everything.
Blue Hill, that brought a good change. It added a lot, made it more recognized, we were just included on a Tastemade episode because of that.
You got to look at who we are and the size space that we have. We’re from Tarrytown and we’re also Amtrack’s national coffee partner but we’re still that mom-and-pop. You can find me in the shop, unless I’m travelling, I’m there in the shop or I’m out checking on a counter opening new accounts, still going out to do sales. My business card, my cell phone’s on there so when you call, you’re not talking to a sales rep. Every customer that I have has direct access.
I don’t want to be Starbucks, I don’t want to be Pete’s, I don’t want to be Blue Bottle — let me not misconceive what I’m saying — I don’t want to be a huge corporate giant.
So I mean, Tarrytown, we looked everywhere man, Jersey, Connecticut, and we just kept coming back to the town, we just had a vibe. It was the vision of the vibe that was going.
It was funny a few years ago, someone wrote a review — I don’t know it was years and years ago — but it always stuck. It was like, “Mike used to be really friendly, but now that he’s been there for so long, he’s forgot where he’s come from,” and to this day it bothers me.