Astoria, Coffee
Jun 18, 2014

Caffe Bene Coming to Astoria – Neighborhood Friend or Foe?

We’ve recently heard that the Korean coffee mega-chain, Caffe Bene, has stepped forward further into western Queens (they’ve had a location in Flushing since last year), with two places planned (…)

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caffe-bene-mongolia

Caffe Bene truly is mult-national – this a scene from the Ulaanbaatar shop – yes, that’s in Mongolia.

We’ve recently heard that the Korean coffee mega-chain, Caffe Bene, has stepped forward further into western Queens (they’ve had a location in Flushing since last year), with two places planned for Astoria at 31-30 Ditmars Blvd and Steinway Street near Broadway (they are already open in Sunnyside). As we’ve written over the past several months, Ditmars is big on coffee—right now you can get a coffee or espresso at La Guli, Starbucks, Dunkin, Brooklyn Bagel, and Martha’s. Add to that the future newcomers OK Cafe, 60 Beans, and the Avenue Cafe north location; Caffe Bene will join soon. That makes for a total nine spots in the course of 5 blocks (and we’re not even counting the delicious Australian Iced Coffee at Thirsty Koala). Most of these are independent (as opposed to chains) businesses owned by people in the community, and we love supporting that.

We are definitely curious about Caffe Bene, considered to be the “Starbucks of South Korea” by many, and that moniker should give you an idea that they are determined to expand. They have approximately 1,200 locations worldwide, and back in February, The Real Deal reported that they plan to open 80 franchise locations in New York City, throughout the five boroughs. That is a lot of Caffe Benes!

In January, DNAinfo reported the concerns a Washington Heights indie cafe had about Caffe Bene moving into the neighorhood. Haitem Weslati, owner of Taszo Espresso Bar, was concerned that the chain cafe would “threaten his livelihood.” He said, “It’s going to hurt my business tremendously. We’re going to be competing for the same demographics, the same customers.”

Some might say that competition is good for business. On a personal note, I remember in the early to mid-1990s when Starbucks moved into neighborhoods in the Bay Area and certainly took business away from older, established cafes—and yes, I saw a number of them go out of business, so this whole thing is definitely deja vu for me.

So how about you—will you welcome Caffe Bene to the neighborhood with open arms (and open mouths for waffles and bubble tea) or are you wary about their establishing a presence in Astoria? Do you think the current coffee scene can hold its own against a multi-national chain? Let us know with a comment or a tweet!

“Starbucks of South Korea” plans huge city expansion [The Real Deal]
‘Korean Starbucks’ May Threaten Small WaHi Cafe, Owner Says [DNAinfo]
Caffé Bene Executive Says to Expect 80 More Caffé Benes Really Soon [Grub Street]
Ditmars Coffee News and Rumors [WHA]

About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

12 Comments

Astorian

I hadn’t been down Steinway in awhile, so when I saw a brand new Caffe Bene across from Blink Fitness, my heart started to flutter. I grew up in Korea so having Caffe Bene in Astoria is like a piece of home in a neighborhood in dire need of a facelift when it comes to restaurants and cafes.
I feel that Astoria’s food scene is not that diverse and I often go to other surrounding neighborhoods to try something new (I’m referring to you Williamsburg). However, when I crave something gourmet in Astoria I usually stop by the Kickshaw. Kinship cafe also opened up on Steinway and its definitely better than Starbucks, but not better than Kickshaw’s coffee imo.
Also, I do not frequent Starbucks and prefer to make coffee at home because its better and obviously to save money. Besides the hometown nostalgia, the reason why I love Caffe Bene is because it offers korean-style pastries and korean drinks and desserts that can’t be found at other local or chain coffee shops (for example: green tea shaved ice or “misugaru” (multi-grain) latte). The cafe also has beautiful decor with plush seats and rattan chairs…one of the other points I miss about the cafes in Korea. I will say the coffee is not that great at Caffe Bene, but the items I mentioned above are worth a try.
Lastly, as for competition…if local shops serve great coffee, food, and great service then they have nothing to worry about.
TL;DR Foreign foods and drinks uncommon to Astoria. Great decor and environment. Better than Starbucks. Must stay.

Reply
megc

Just a couple brief thoughts. One, I believe the food scene in Astoria is pretty diverse, with food cultures from 6 continents represented in the neighborhood. It’s definitely continuing to expand, too—we’re getting our first Korean restaurant on Broadway, which is a very good thing (there’s been one on 34th Ave for a little while, too). As to the nostalgia element, I can understand that when it comes to some things. I’d probably gravitate towards a Starbucks outside of the US, but I would likely shun a McDonald’s. A couple weeks ago I went into the Caffe Bene in Sunnyside and was disappointed in the minor role Asian baked goods played in their display; mostly it was American-style muffins, cookies, and bars. Maybe that will be different here in Astoria. Indeed, the misugaru is unique and I’d give it a try. I’d love to see a few things enter the Astoria food scene, too: Ethiopian, Georgian, and Nordic food.

Thanks for your comment and I plan to use it as a starting point for a post on We Heart Astoria. Stay tuned!

Reply
megc

I would love to see a lot more Korean food in Astoria. It’s just so delicious and flavorful! Also—banchan awesomeness. Here’s hoping the new Korean place, Mokja, will do well. Seems like this place is ripe for something like that. And good regional Chinese food—an outpost of Xi’an Foods’s Biang! would be very successful in Astoria, IMHO.

Reply
Peter

What exactly is the “diversity” of Williamsburg you find so lacking? I suppose Queens Comfort, Sugar Freak, Queens Kickshaw, and Pachange Patterson can all look surprisingly similar (nothing against any of them). So is “diversity” now somehow the codeword for “people who have exactly the same taste as me”?

In a neighborhood that has always been filled with coffee, cheese, and diversity, I have now actually heard people say, “I love Astoria… if only it had coffee”; “I love Astoria… if only it had cheese”; “I love Astoria… if only it had diversity.” Christ almighty! Open your eyes to the wonders that abound.

Do you not dare go into an ethnic place that isn’t your ethnicity? How can one live in a neighborhood and simply ignore every place that hasn’t opened in the past few years? If you only spend your money sitting under Edison-Bulb and Christmas-tree-lights, I’m afraid you’re destroying what makes Astoria so diverse *and* unique.

Reply
Nikita58467

I had them at time square once a long time ago and thought the coffee and buns are quite overpriced (not uncommon in Korean bakeries IMO). However, we don’t have something similar in ditmars so why not?

As for competition with smaller business, I found that people in astoia do stay loyal to places that are good, regardless they are chain or not. As long as the goods are good, people will keep coming!

Reply
John

It will do well here. The Times Square location gets swamped. The one in Bayside is also busy and remember Bayside/ Flushing has a huge Korean community. Astoria has a small but sizable Korean community. Heck my whole building is almost Korean lol

Reply

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