Astoria, Brunch, Coffee, Food and Drink, Neighborhood
Feb 19, 2020

A Coffee Shop Where They Know Your Name: Sonbobs on 28th Ave

Sonbob’s Coffee House cropped up on the Astoria scene in 2018. Unassuming on 28th Ave, tucked in between 34th and 35th St., a purple sign in the window draws you (…)

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Sonbob’s Coffee House cropped up on the Astoria scene in 2018. Unassuming on 28th Ave, tucked in between 34th and 35th St., a purple sign in the window draws you in. As you enter you’ll be greeted by owner Sonnie Brown, an actress by trade who initially opened up the shop to serve as her “second job.” If you’ve been there at least once before, she’ll probably already greet you by name, and if not, she’ll learn it then. She’ll likely be in the middle of making her sweet treat for the day—anything from lemon cupcakes with blueberries to banana chocolate chip muffins to peanut butter cake with strawberry jam and buttercream frosting (with homemade bourbon vanilla extract).

Instagram / @sonbobs_coffeehouse

Sonnie had consistent work as a film actress for most of her career (you can spot her in the likes of Pose, The Village, and Law & Order), but said over the last few years that jobs started drying up. She said she looked for something part-time, but that it was difficult finding something being over 50, and she didn’t want to go back to restaurant managing which she had done in the past.

She’s lived in Astoria for over 20 years, and walked by the current Sonbob’s space one day and it caught her eye. It’s very narrow—10×40 feet to be exact—and was painted lime green at the time (it had a been a bodega and then a hair salon), but it was a fraction of the price of rent on 30th Ave., so she decided to try opening her own coffee shop.

She wanted to serve the high-quality coffee she discovered while living in the East Village and fell in love with: Puerto Rico Importing Co. So you can get a fresh cup of that every day (hot or iced, with coffee ice cubes). And since she always loved baking cakes on the side, her friend recommended she do it at the shop. Now she makes a fresh cake and/or cupcakes and muffins every day, and on the weekends even makes brunch items like her “Son-banh mi,” meatball subs, curry chicken salad, and a ham and cheese croissant.

She is very conscious of keeping the prices low, since she knows the neighborhood well, and has accumulated a steady stream of regulars who realized just how special Sonbob’s really is. Everything she bakes on Friday is gluten-free, inspired by a longtime customer who had celiac disease. And this is just one example of the customer care and community collaboration she fosters. One of her customers was a graphic artist who helped design her t-shirt logo; one couple still comes to the shop every Saturday for brunch as they did when it first opened, and now they bring their bring (the first true “Sonbobs baby!” Sonnie says).

The feel of the space is very eclectic-cozy, and welcoming. A lot of the major furniture pieces she received from a friend who was moving to Florida, and others she picked up at sales around the neighborhood or that were being given away by people. There’s a comfy futon you can cozy up in with a book, or a rocking chair perfectly positioned by the window. Or, you can sit at the counter in front of the kitchen area and watch Sonnie do her thing.

The name “Sonbobs” is a nickname a friend always used to call her, while also standing for a shortened version of “Sonnie’s bits and bobs.” She also sells little items—soy candles, adorable rice bowls, thrifted clothes, and jewelry she made herself that she used to sell at the flea market—that are stacked on a bookshelf and dresser.

As for what else to enjoy at Sonbob’s, Sonnie hosts open mic nights every second Wednesday and last Friday of the month—with singing, poetry readings and more (she even brings out her ukulele). She also makes custom cakes upon request, and loves hosting a private party at Sonbob’s (though she admits 15 people is the sweet spot, 20 is really the max in the tight space). She’ll do catering and mix up custom drinks and help you decorate to whatever theme you desire.

And she’s looking to get her beer and wine license next.

Sonbob’s is located at 34-15 28th Ave, and is open 8am-8pm Monday-Friday and 9am-8pm Saturday-Sunday. Definitely pay this neighborhood gem a visit! And follow on Instagram for updates and events.

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