Black Lab Cafe, an Upper West Side eatery for pups and their owners, has only been open for seven weeks, but it is already leaving its pawprint on the Upper West Side community.
The cafe offers a place for owners to relax with their pups, for dogs to play, and for both owner and pup to enjoy a homemade treat. They are currently serving coffee and pastries but have plans to expand their menu to include sandwiches and salads, tapas plates, juices, overnight oats and more.
The shop on 80th and Amsterdam has been open for nearly seven weeks, after they were forced to push back their grand opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the cafe is still in its “soft launch,” the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, owner Lise Evans said.
“We’ve been open six or seven weeks and we already have so many regulars,” Evans said. “That makes me very happy because there’s nothing better in a business than people wanting to come back ... some people come almost every day.”
Polaroids of all the cafe’s furry customers hanging on the wall, pup artwork and dog toys for sale let the dogs know that the space is truly designed for them.
“You always ask for the dog’s name and how old they are and what breed they are, and you get so much info on the dog and then you’re like ‘oh yeah! There’s a human too!” Evans said.
Daisy and Lola
As new customers enter the shop, they’re immediately greeted with hellos from the cafe’s owners, Evans, her sons Nik and Kris Powers, and the true owners: the family’s two Black Labs, Daisy and Lola. Dogs explore the area, on or off-leash, while their owner places an order, and when it comes time to go, many dogs just don’t want to leave.
“Every day when we leave, Daisy sits by the crossing [on Amsterdam] and she won’t leave,” Evans said. “She just sits there, and she won’t go home!”
While the cafe is designed for dogs and their owners, Evans said they have also welcomed some unlikely guests, including four NYU Law school students who regularly visited the café while studying for their final exams in order to relieve some stress.
“There’s also a little girl whose name is Lola, and Lola comes in to see Lola [the Lab] all the time,” Evans said. “After school we get a lot of kids from different schools in the area, and kids that don’t have dogs that just want to be around dogs ... seeing that makes me very happy.”
The dog-friendly neighborhood has certainly played a big role in the cafe’s success, Evans said, adding that multiple people have told her that the area has one of the highest numbers of “dogs per capita” in the country.
“We absolutely love this neighborhood ... maybe it’s because we only see the nicest people in the neighborhood because they own dogs,” Evans joked.
Working with Family
One unique aspect of the shop is that the business is entirely run by Evans and her sons, which Kris Powers said has been a blessing because “there’s no one you can trust quite like your family.”
“We’ve never done this before ... we all came from fairly different backgrounds in terms of career,” Powers added. “There’s some challenges, but I think with any business it’s really important to know your team and you don’t know anyone as well as you know your family.”
Evans also joked that “business talk” has recently begun to dominate the conversation at family dinners, and her younger daughter often asks if they can “talk about something else.”
Evans and her sons are constantly looking for ways to improve the cafe using their “suggestion box” that sits at the café’s counter, and for ways to expand and maximize their impact.
Plans for the Future
Looking ahead, the family has big plans to turn the cafe into a hub for all things dog-related. They plan to host adoption nights in conjunction with the ASPCA, and events with speakers including a dog oncologist, and dog nutritionists.
Black Lab Cafe recently hosted a photo exhibition for photographer Vanessa Eastman, whose dog portraits currently line the walls of the cafe. In the future, they plan on hosting more art shows and even wine tastings.
They are also looking to expand their hours to nine p.m. in the near future, and recently received their liquor license. A longer-term goal for the family is to open more Black Lab Cafes around the city.
“We absolutely love this neighborhood ... maybe it’s because we only see the nicest people in the neighborhood because they own dogs.” Lise Evans of Black Lab Cafe