When Brandon and Faith Lee opened Bird & Branch, an independent speciality coffee shop on Manhattan‘s West 45th Street, they did so with more than the intention to serve locals a stellar cup of coffee or passersby a clever signature drink (though, they have done this with gusto). From day one, in February 2018, they sought out ways to give back to their community and this manifested, first, as a job-training program for people with barriers to employment. Since, they’ve trained baristas with the many skills necessary to craft magnificent caffeinated beverages. In the middle of the pandemic, their offerings expanded even further to assist organizations at home and abroad.
No other example represents their values quite like the fact that, in March, when they shuttered for COVID-19 restrictions, the Bird & Branch team assembled and delivered roughly 3,000 breakfasts and care packages to more than 50 hospitals and nursing homes around NYC. Their little midtown shop was the hub of operations for this. At the time of publish, they’re operating once again (for to-go orders) and there have been plenty of substantial developments.
“Our company mission, from the moment we started this, was to be restorative,” Brandon tells us. “This began with the job-training program, first. But we also wanted to source coffee from Saint Frank and items from other places that restore producers on the back end. This is about integrity.” Saint Frank, a roaster based in San Francisco (as their name alludes), operates with the understanding the coffee can bring joy to life. Not only do they source exquisite beans, they also invest in communities of producers and look after small farmers.
“Third,” on their mission statement, “would be to restore our customers,” Brandon says. “We designed the shop to be different from your typical coffee hideout. We wanted it to be a space to take a break.” Along with the airy, open design of their store, the menu offers an unexpected array of seasonal specials you won’t find anywhere else—and all of them have bird names.
Fall is the perfect moment for their Snowy Owl—a blend of espresso with spicy chocolate, toasted honey and vanilla marshmallow fluff—the drink that helped put them on the map outside of their neighborhood. One can also snag a Puffin (a latte made with fresh kabocha and cinnamon) or a Mockingbird (a single-shot cappuccino made with black sesame and either espresso or matcha). As far as pastries go, they recently introduced a crispy, dense kouign-amann that would make Breton chefs envious.
Online, Bird & Branch also offers numerous care packages, collections and blends that keep up with their creativity and give back to their neighborhood and global organizations in need. For example, their $35 holiday care package (which includes a Make-Your-Own Snowy Owl Kit, as well as numerous delicacies and lots of deliciousness) sends 15% of its proceeds to The Actors Fund and the Costume Industry Coalition, both of which support the beleaguered theater community. Artist Dana Tanamachi and MiiR‘s collaborative accessories collection sends $5 for every item sold to Preemptive Love, a non-profit dedicated to supporting those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“We’re a neighborhood spot right in the center of the city. Times Square is right here,” Brandon says. Though they still serve so many of their regulars, most of the Broadway foot traffic is gone. Their spot on 45th Street feels like a support system for the apartments around them. Regardless of whether they’re a local spot or a big city draw, they’ve very good at what they do. They’re one of a select group of shops that can carry Ippodo matcha. And it was here that we noticed Saint Frank’s glorious Golondrina Gesha Bolivian coffee—a light roast of rarity. Not only do they carry such sought-after components, they know exactly how to whip them into something superb.
Images courtesy of Bird & Branch