I'm trying to remember the names of all the different coffeehouse concepts that have percolated in -- and out of -- the yellow frame house at 1615 West 39th Street over the last two decades: Pi Cappuccino, Cantata Cafe, The Supreme Bean, Crave Cafe, Javanaut. Am I forgetting any?
The newest tenant in the building may be the most memorable yet.
Last month, musician turned barista Michael Valverde and his
pastry-baking wife, Ashley, both vegans, opened the newest business in
the space: Mud Pie Vegan Bakery and Coffee House. They operate the
business with Ashley's mother, Sharon Hughes.
click to enlarge
Michael Valverde got his start as a professional barista working for his previous employer at Javanaut. When that business folded, Michael and Ashley decided to start their own business in the same location. There hadn't been much in the way of food served at Javanaut, so the Valverdes had to do some serious work creating a full kitchen -- three, actually -- in the building. There's a larger prep kitchen on the basement level, another kitchen behind the coffee bar, and a smaller third kitchen on the second floor that is used, primarily, for creating gluten-free pastries.
"We're only starting to offer gluten-free items because we get so many requests for them," Michael says. "Right now, Wednesdays are the day that we offer gluten-free things like cookies, cupcakes and banana bread. I think we'll be expanding that."
The refrigerated pastry case near the coffee bar is well-stocked every day with the sweet confections prepared daily by Ashley Valverde and her mother. Today's offerings included pumpkin, lemon-poppyseed and banana muffins; cheddar-cheese-and-herb scones; cupcakes; chocolate bundt cakes; and saucer-sized cookies.
Michael Valverde laughs when he's reminded that, until recently, vegan pastries had a reputation for being dry, flavorless, and often visually pretty but not so tasty.
"I think vegan baking has come a long way," he says. "On Saturdays, my mother-in-law bakes these incredible vegan cinnamon rolls that taste as rich and delicious as you'll find in any traditional bakery. We usually sell out of them before the end of the day."
Longtime vegetarians, Michael and Ashley chose to become vegans only a few years ago, not only for health reasons, Michael says, but because they're animal-rights advocates as well. The couple are now parents of an 18-month-old daughter, Ella, and they enjoy explaining what vegan means to new customers coming to their business. But, he says, "We don't hammer people over the head with the information," he says.
There are some customers who request skim milk or whole milk with their lattes or cappuccinos, and Michael has to suggest the alternatives that are available at Mud Pie: "We have almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, coconut milk and cashew milk. Usually, after one of the customers tastes our nondairy milks, they like them. In the coffee, anyway. I'm a very good barista, so I know how to make a delicious coffee drink no matter what's in it."
A passionate barista, 36-year-old Michael Valverde is currently creating a house espresso blend with local coffee-roasting house Oddly Correct. "We're on version five right now and still experimenting because each version is, we think, better than the one before it."
As a musician, Valverde likes to describe his espresso roast in orchestral terms. "When I explain to the roaster what I want, I'll say 'more strings' or 'less brass.' Luckily, he understands exactly what I mean."
The Mud Pie Vegan Bakery is open six days a week: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 8 a.m. to 8 pm. Sundays.
"We're busier later in the evening instead of the mornings," Michael says. "People like to stop in after dinner for coffee and pastries."