Inside Look: Daughter, NYC - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

When Adam Keita and partners Brian Stoothoff and Sarah Elisabeth Huggins set out to open a community coffee shop in the Crown Heights neighborhood, they wanted to create a space that would be “open, cozy, warm, friendly, and welcoming to all,” says Keita. A place that would respond to the needs of the neighborhood, rather than dictating them. When we featured Daughter in our 2021 Imbibe 75 issue, Keita said he hoped their ambitious model—including plans to offer no-cost meals to those in need, partnerships providing laundry service to people experiencing homelessness, and a pay structure that would level the playing field for employees—would galvanize others to act.

Part of their vision came to life in the café’s unique architecture and interior design, which was orchestrated by friend and architect Christopher Al-Jumah. “It’s an unusual space because it’s long, narrow, and tall. Not ideal proportions for a coffee shop, and not a lot of room for seating,” Al-Jumah says. To get inspired, Al-Jumah walked around the neighborhood to see how the locals interacted with their community. “I noticed a lot of people stooping,” he says. “I used to live in a Brownstone, and I loved that—how everyone would hang out on the stoops. At first it wasn’t going to be part of the design, but as I was walking the neighborhood it just kind of clicked.”

The seating that came from that epiphany ended up being one of the café’s signature features. The oversized, rough-hewn steps span the length of the space and are made from plaster, sand, concrete, and resin, which gives them a worn-in feel, just like the nearby Brownstones.

Unlike the floorplans of many coffee shops, where guests walk in through a front door to face a sales counter, at Daughter the doors open to reveal the “stoops” first, a feature that Al-Jumah says is of his favorite elements of the space, and one that proves how the ethos of the company and the design ended up playing off one another. “When you’re in there, you see the inviting seating, the nice chairs, and the lighting sticks out as beautiful soft glowing orbs—you’re immediately invited to sit down, even before you go to get your coffee,” Al-Jumah says. “We did a ton of prototyping for the dimensions of the steps because we wanted to make sure they would be just right, just comfortable for people. At some point we will add upholstery too to make them even more comfortable.”

Inside each stoop, nooks and crannies were etched into the material to hold coffee cups and plates, and planters are sunk into the concrete to make it seem like the plants are a natural part of the steps, as if they’re growing out of the ground as they would on a sidewalk. Elsewhere in the space, Al-Jumah aimed to mix materials and moods to create a vibe that feels both familiar and new. “The form of the stoop could be beautiful and smooth and elegant but with a rough texture, and that contrast will contrast the other elements like the bright pops of color on the ceiling. The greenery and the ceramics contrast with the elegant wood and furniture. The whole thing becomes a play of blending rough tones with warm ones.”

Overall, the café’s atmosphere feels wholly unique but in no way pretentious. “Some people love it and some people turn their nose up at it, but I kind of like that,” Al-Jumah says. “It means you did something different. You have to be brave to throw ideas like that out there. There are a million cafés that all look the same, and I didn’t want to do one more of those.”

For Keita, the café’s style clicks seamlessly with the company’s community-minded ethos. “I’m happy to see that this design really does embody what I envisioned for the café. Chris pushed forward with the idea of the stoops, and making the design reflect what was already in Crown Heights.”

Since the café opened in April, Keita says the feedback from the neighborhood has exceeded their expectations. “People just love it, that’s the best part. Some people come in and hang around on the stoops all day—it’s really nice.”

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