There’s a “disconnect” between those who grow coffee and those who serve it, says Aliyyah Baylor, the third-generation baker behind Make My Cake in Harlem. That’s not the only reason she decided to open I Like It Black, a new neighborhood coffee shop located at 409 West 125th Street, but representation is at the core of her business.
“When you start to learn the history of coffee, you see that a lot is coming from Africa and South America,” Baylor says. More than half of the U.S.’s coffee is imported from Central and South American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras, while East African countries like Ethiopia and Uganda rank among the world’s largest exporters of coffee beans elsewhere. Yet in New York City’s coffee scene, there aren’t nearly enough roasters and coffee shop owners who are representative of those backgrounds, according to Baylor.
Hence the name of her coffee shop. “We are using this to celebrate ourselves, and people who look like me,” Baylor says. “We all need that platform.” As part of an ongoing series, the new coffee shop will spotlight a different Black- or Latinx-owned coffee roaster every quarter, starting with Merge Coffee Company in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I Like It Black will also serve Intelligentsia Coffee, which is not Black-owned but has been the longtime provider of coffee beans for Make My Cake.
Ahead of the coffee shop’s full opening next month, I Like It Black is serving a short menu of hot and cold beverages. Most are standard cafe fare, but there are a few specialty drinks made in-house, like its Southern-style cold brew made with cane sugar, a stick of vanilla bean, and a third ingredient that Baylor would only disclose off the record. The coffee shop has plans to eventually offer a full menu of coffee-themed pastries, including coffee cake and espresso chocolate chip cookies.
There’s no sign on the cafe yet, but with the nearest Starbucks a “five minute walk away,” Baylor says she has a “captive audience” in the neighborhood.
The idea for the coffee shop started roughly a year ago, after Baylor signed a lease for a space on West 125th Street that could be divided into two neighboring shops. Baylor always knew that she wanted to use part of the space to open a third location of her 25-year-old Harlem Bakery, Make My Cake, but it took a once-in-a-generation pandemic for her to figure out what to do with its second half.
In March, one of Baylor’s on-and-off employees over the years, cafe manager Daniel Berroa, returned to the bakery after being furloughed from a position at another New York City coffee shop. He suggested turning the space into a cafe for the neighborhood. “It’s been a cake walk so far,” Baylor jokes, then asks to hold. An employee had apparently bitten into one of the cafe’s housemade hot chocolate bombs, mistaking it for a cake pop. “As I was saying, it’s been mostly a cake walk so far. Now it’s going to be a coffee walk.”
Baylor opened the first location of her beloved Harlem bakery Make My Cake in 1995 with her mother Joann Baylor. The pair now operate two bakeries in Manhattan, one located at 2380 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem and a second location at 775 Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. The third location of Make My Cake is set to open next door to I Like It Black in Harlem this March.
I Like It Black is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily during its soft opening. Expanded hours and sidewalk seating are on the way in the coming weeks, according to Baylor.