In New York City, arguably the most urbane of American cities, there’s one coffee brand that stands particularly far apart from the hyper-clean, uncluttered and minimalist aesthetic of so many of today’s cafes. Peddler has been serving coffee from a converted nut cart since 2014, embracing a haphazard-seeming approach to coffee retail design aesthetics that belies a refined and focused approach to coffee selection and preparation.
Peddler has since expanded from that initial cart to occupy several others, with locations in Soho, Flatiron and soon the Financial District, plus one other semi-permanent cart — created in collaboration with artist Tom Sachs — at a San Francisco art museum that’s currently looking for a new home.
This slow, streetside growth has resulted in a robust catering operation, with Peddler providing coffee services for the likes of Google, MTV, HBO, Netflix, Fashion Week and the 911 Memorial, among other private events. And it all started with a $100 — nay, a $400 — investment.
“I saw the [nut] cart (iPed) sitting in the halo of a street lamp, chained to some scaffolding down the street from my apartment on Avenue C in the East Village,” Peddler Founder and Co-Owner Byron Kaplan recently told Daily Coffee News. “The next day I asked some of the people hanging on the corner whose it was and a guy in a wheelchair said it was his and I could have it for $100. Someone else then chimed in and pointed me in the direction to the real owners who I bought it off for $400.”
Along with Co-Owner Mark May, Kaplan runs Peddler’s operations, with coffee for each of the carts provided by Brooklyn’s Sey Coffee. The drinks menu — displayed graphically in what Kaplan refers to as the Peddler Bible — is compact, focused on short espresso-based drinks, filter brew and iced coffee. Said Kaplan, “We probably have the best iced coffee in the city — no shit.”
After launching with a vintage Astoria Fiore lever machine, Peddler has converted to using La Marzocco Lineas with grinders including Mahlkonig EK43, Mahlkonig Peak, Mahlkonig Guatemala and Mazzer Robur.
Outfitting each of the carts with legit cafe equipment is a task handled by the Peddler owners — who have past and current experience in furniture and construction — and “one guy” who has been with Peddler since the first nut cart conversion, Kaplan said.
“Most shops I took it to didn’t want to touch it, or if they did they were asking for too much money,” Kaplan said of the original conversion. “But I found one guy who was willing to work with me and let me use his shop, and he continues to build our carts.”
Peddler is currently seeking a new home for the Tom Sachs cart, while another cart that will be called “Don’t Be Fucking Stupid” is also in the works. “There are a bunch of other cart ideas I would like to do that go beyond coffee, but these are just ideas at this point,” Kaplan said.
Asked whether Peddler might one day make its own conversion from street carts to a brick-and-mortar store, Kaplan said, “Maybe one day, if the right situation presents itself.”