The bustling streets of the Lower East Side are abundant with options for coffee-lovers. However, the coffee shop Fair Folks and a Goat, which doubles as a retail store, remains unique for its way of attracting loyal customers: a $25 monthly membership fee comes with unlimited amounts of coffee, tea, espresso drinks and lemonade. Recently, we scoped out the quirky locale, also featured recently in The New York Times
Despite being somewhat nonchalantly nestled along 96 West Houston Street, the shop’s vivid blue exterior stands out. After descending a short flight of stairs and entering through the shop’s narrow doorway, a barista named Ryan Hill energetically greeted us and asked for our order. There is no menu, so he casually named items to choose from.
“Aaah, boring,” he jokingly responded to a request for plain coffee. In two corners of the room (one yellow-orange and the other sky blue), young people tapped away at laptops and a pair of younger women engaged in discussion at the center table. We could immediately sense what was special about this place: it was more than your typical coffee shop, but a place to unwind and engage with others.
Not everyone comes to the shop for drinks and socializing: a few come to browse and purchase various items from the shop’s retail section (members receive a 10% discount off all items). These items include pillows, umbrellas, jewelry, clothing and backpacks.
Customers browse design items for sale.
Fair Folks and a Goat was started by husband and wife team Anthony and Aurora Mazzei. Ryan met Anthony when he came to Fair Folks and a Goat as part of his work for a beer distributor, and decided to become a barista here instead.
According to an interview in Vogue, the couple initially started a business selling cakes and collectibles on the Upper East Side. Ryan explained that Aurora was once a buyer at a design shop, and then used her talents to curate items of designers she liked and create this business.
The couple moved to New Orleans to start a bed & breakfast business, where guests could also buy items but years ago, “they packed that up and brought it here,” starting another branch of Fair Folks and a Goat in the East Village a year ago.
While Ryan said they get a lot of returning members everyday (many are students from New York University), he said other customers are one-timers who just need an escape from the busyness of life. He emphasized that the shop’s unique membership policy makes it “stick out from the rest,” since it facilitates an environment people gravitate towards.
In fact, one new member sitting near me, an NYU student named Angela Song, registered because she would go to Dunkin’ Donuts twice a day for coffee. However, because of the cheaper membership option, she decided to become a regular customer at Fair Folks and a Goat, where she also thinks the coffee tastes better.
A bright, cozy corner for studying
Though the shop’s menu is simple, it has changed since its beginnings. Even in his eight months, Ryan has noticed changes in terms of how much “product was on the floor” and “the environment that was in play.”
While it used to be more of a coffee shop and study center, it’s “become less get your coffee and sit and more geared towards being engaged and also retail.” While there is a fixed menu, the options are usually discussed with the customer rather than put on a sign. The menu used to be just coffee, espresso, tea and lemonade, but the business has now added items like matcha and mocha flavored drinks as well as new pastries.
Though non-members can still purchase drinks for regular prices, this unique membership fee has drawn in many regular customers since the store’s opening three years ago. According to the New York Times, the store is nearing 1000 members, with an daily average addition of seven members. A portion of each membership fee goes to charity.
With people back from vacation and the school year well underway, Ryan said membership has been increasing from both new and returning members.
Ryan concluded, “One of the best things about this place…there’s not a lot of judgement going on here…It’s a very unassuming environment.”
For more unique coffee shops in New York City, check out 10 Coffee Shops in Manhattan (For Design Buffs), 10 Coffee Shops in Brooklyn (For Design Buffs) and 8 Quirky Coffee Shop Combinations in New York City.