BY NEIL CHIRAGDIN / PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL BERMAN |
You might not expect a man named Turtle to move very quickly; you’d be wrong.
Bobbing between umbrellas on the Long Island City Landing, Frank “Turtle” Raffaele is commonly seen greeting and serving customers at the waterfront location of his coffee shop chainlet, Coffeed. Dubbed “Turtle” by his former boss in his time at the New York City Parks Department for one of the Ninja Turtles, there is something of an unassuming hero in Raffaele as well.
Since its first location opened five years ago, Coffeed has sought to pair profitability with philanthropy. “I was looking to start a business that had a social mission,” says Raffaele. Raffaele’s shops are partnered with local charities, each location contributing between 3% and 10% of their gross revenue to local organizations such as the New York Foundling, which helps children and adults with developmental disabilities. The group provides them with resources for finding foster care and homes, after-school programming and jobs—even within the Coffeed family.
A particular success of the Coffeed brand has grown out of its bakery in Port Washington, Long Island. “The job training program is something we fell into … it’s an absolute pleasure to be a part of these programs,” said Raffaele. He refers to the work Coffeed does with Community Mainstreaming Associates (CMA), another of their charitable partners. CMA and its affiliate, Community Mainstreaming Enterprises, help to teach life and employment skills to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to financial assistance, Coffeed has created a program that socializes CMA clients within its bakery at its outpost there—all Coffeed baked goods currently originate from this location, and thus every pastry purchased at one of the cafés is the product of an adult who might not otherwise have been able to find work.
This is part of a larger goal that Raffaele envisions for the business: to employ half its staff from underemployed populations.
"There's a stigma with developmental disabilities, but it doesn't make them any less viable employees," he said. "We're working very hard to break these stigmas."
The Howard Beach native never doubted his first shop would open in Long Island City. “For me it was a no-brainer … Queens is my home, and LIC has something special to it,” said Raffaele. He made the neighborhood his home after college, and continues to spend up to 20 hours a day there between his Flagship and Landing locations.
“Queens is my
home and LIC
special to it.”
The Coffeed Flagship has brought an oasis of comfort to a corridor of Northern Boulevard that was once entirely industrial. One of the major draws for Raffaele was the presence of Brooklyn Grange, an urban farming business that transforms rooftop spaces in New York City into 50,000 pounds of organic produce annually. Through its nonprofit partner, City Growers, the organization also exposes tens of thousands of city youths to agriculture in a hands-on way that would not otherwise be possible.
Raffaele, searching for his first location five years ago, found likeminds among the farmers at the Grange, and decided to take the commercial space downstairs. Once the business became profitable, City Growers became the first charitable partner of Coffeed, and today Raffaele sits on the nonprofit’s board. An additional perk of the business’s coziness is access to prime local organic produce. “[In the summer], it’s almost exclusively Brooklyn Grange on the menu,” said Raffaele.
The LIC Landing space, opened in 2014, seems near and dear to Raffaele’s heart, perhaps due to his time in the Parks Department. “The Landing concept is essentially Coffeed-plus,” says Raffaele. The space is open to the air with picnic tables aplenty. The menu steps out from behind the pastry case and features pasta, burgers and local beers on draught. Warm weather dots the nearby lawn with sunbathers and a poetry festival garners snaps beside the ferry terminal.
This is the product that Raffaele hopes to export globally: spaces that serve the community on a day-to-day basis, with a focus on employing those who need it most. He doesn’t believe that expansion and profitability are mutually exclusive with charity and social service.
“You’re going to create a corporate culture that’s going to help your business thrive, and you’re going to create a client base that is going to love you for your capacity to help the community you work in,” said Raffaele.
For now, Coffeed remains a largely New York–centered operation (there is, however, an outpost in Seoul), but if Raffaele’s hunch is right, you may one day find their neighborly presence all over the world.
Coffeed Flagship LIC
52-10 Center Blvd.
Long Island City
Coffeed at LIC Landing
37-18 Northern Blvd.,
Long Island City
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Neil Chiragdin is a Queens native who writes about arts and culture for several publications and does not believe in...