EatDrinkJax with John Allen Harrett of The Fringe CafeSeptember 8, 2013 1 comment Print Article
Talking about The Fringe Eatery with John Allen Harrett, the brainchild behind Murray Hill's steampunk fusion cafe.
16. Did you ever think of hiring a chef and focusing on running the rest of the operation? What got you interested in doing the cooking?
Necessity. From the outset there was no budget to do what I wanted to do. I'm employed as the Facilities and Special Events Co-ordinator. That has nothing to do with what I'm doing now. I'm putting in 80 hours a week as a labor of love because I believe that Murray Hill, as a neighborhood, has a lot of potential and it just needs a few staples. There are already a few here but it requires more to become a district. One of those things needed is a cool little coffee shop that things can grow around. The neighborhood itself is doing alright from a residential perspective, but commercially we need some new people here. I'm laying the ground work to let people know that it's okay here and you can come and open your record shop or whatever. The overhead is a lot less than other districts and it's close to a lot of other things.
17. The Theatre has live events, but so does the coffee shop. Can you tell us about them?
We do an open mic every Wednesday. It's been really growing due a strong presence from poets and literary followers at JU. Michael Palmer is a published author, a really great poet, and one of the teachers at JU. He has been helping me to grow that night. I also have a good amount of singer-songwriters, and actors who want to do monologues. I've put no parameters on open mic. I've even gotten up and told people they can come up and rant for a while if they want to. I don't even like calling it open mic; I prefer to call it a mic with a penchant for openness.
Tuesday nights I have book studies and different groups that meet in the space. Some groups are playing board games. There are couches in the lobby of the theatre so people can relax and just have their evening, and their discussions.
Thursday nights from 8:30 - 11:30pm I've just started up a karaoke night. We don't serve alcohol and in a non-alcohol environment karaoke takes on a whole new perspective. I'm calling it family karaoke - which means there are some kids in the early part of the evening, which I really like because there are a lot of parents who want their kids to do karaoke but there aren't many places for them.
On Friday and Saturday nights when there's nothing going on in the main room I'll have an acoustic artist or a poet in The Fringe. So there's always something going on.
18. Are most of your customers coming from the local neighborhood?
I'd say about a quarter of the people coming in are from the local neighborhood, which is really promising. To the best of my knowledge they go away happy and I've seen a lot of people coming back. Sometimes they just come by to use our free wi-fi, take in the sights, and watch what's going on.
19. You describe The Fringe as a "Steampunk gallery." What's that?
Steampunk is a literary term. One description is of the Victorian era with technology. And the technology of that era was driven by steam. The movie Wild, Wild West with Will Smith was a steampunk movie. The new Sherlock Holmes movies are steampunk - they're set in the old times, but with technology. Jules Verne is the father of steampunk with 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. So you have this very eclectic environment with all these quirky things. I guess that would describe the mind of the creator of this environment - that being me.
20. You have pretty long hours. Do you find that people come all through the night?
It depends on the day. I'd say things are generally steady. There's a pop for dinner then people trickle in through the course of the evening.
I'm very OCD about the hours - when I say 6 to midnight, I mean 6 to midnight. My parents showed up with their friends at 11:50 one night and I was like "seriously? seriously?" Of course they wanted coffee and desserts. They sat there and had a great evening. But that means I'm not out until 1 or 1:30 and when I need to be up the next morning to go to the Farmer's Market it can be somewhat taxing. So, I do try to maintain my hours. People only show up a few times and if you're not open when you say you will be they aren't going to come back. People have options. When they go out of their way to come here I need to give them an enjoyable experience with consistent service and a quality product every time they come.