Will Broth Cafes Become the New NYC Coffee Shops?
Walk into the West Village's Springbone at any given time, on any given day, and you'll be assured that the athleisure trend is still going strong. Adults of all ages in stretchy Adidas pants and branded Nike jogging jackets pack the communal wooden table, while delivery people rush back and forth from the ordering counter, filling their insulated backpacks with plastic tubs of bone broth and white paper bags stuffed with gluten-free, paleo-friendly zucchini noodles and maybe a chia pudding for dessert.
On a cold, rainy day, while bogged down with the weight of the familiar all-day city luggage (a laptop/snacks/subway book) and the even greater need to find Wi-Fi and an available outlet, Springbone lured me in. The crisp, clean logo, the tidy shelves leading up to the register vending flavored ghee and mushroom-infused chocolates and cricket-flour PB&J bites convinced me that this cafe, in all of its less-than-subtle pretentiousness, was a good place to be.
Former finance professionals Jordan Feldman and Sam Eckstein started their Paleo, gluten-free restaurant after becoming frustrated with the lack of health food options in their neighborhoods.
"I was working long hours and was really into health and nutrition, and I was really frustrated with what the [dining] options were," Feldman says. He worked in Midtown and lived downtown, but "nothing really met my standards and I didn't have time to cook all my food for myself and so-called health food restaurants aren't fully transparent." Those with a 40-minute commute, nine-hour workday, and hour-long regular gym routine may be able to relate.
While Springbone serves a full menu of gluten-free and Paleo-friendly meals and snacks (zucchini spaghetti with grain-free meatballs is a popular order), the health-conscious cafe is primarily centered around bone broth, available in both chicken and beef renditions, as well as a daily-rotating veggie (bone-free) variety. Following the success of Marco Canora's bone broth counter Brodo, which opened in October 2014, broth has begun to slowly creep on the trendy latte's terrain -- there's Portland's Broth Bar, which opened in 2015; Paleo restaurants like Austin's Picnik, which serves chicken bone broth along with the equally trendy butter coffee; and companies like Osso Good, Bare Bones, and Kettle & Fire, which offer bone broth subscription services, so you can get your daily broth fix delivered right to your door.
"Broth in particular is something most people don't have in their daily diets. It's a really traditional food... but in today's world, people don't have the time to put beef bones on the stove and wait 18 hours for [the broth] to cook," Feldman says. With to-go spots like Springbone and Brodo (which now has a second location in the West Village), "You don't have to take the time -- we've done it for you and you can just grab it on the go."
"I didn't expect it to do what it did at all," Canora says of the craze he pretty much launched himself. Because he already made broth at Hearth, he thought a window that made around $300 a day would be a good way to sell a dish he already excelled at, and let passersby get a taste of his restaurant's food. The revenue far exceeded Canora's goals, which led to him opening the brick-and-mortar location this past November.
So why has bone broth taken off?
"It's really, really tasty and people love tasty things," Canora laughs. He also says the launch of the original Brodo window was "timed right," when people "were looking for function out of their food and beverage." Not only does bone broth taste good, it's also constantly praised for its health benefits, which gained traction with Brodo clientele.
"People come back because they love the way it tastes and the way it makes them feel," Canora says.
The menu at Brodo is made up of à la cup broths, including the signature Hearth blend of organic chicken, organic turkey, and 100% grass-fed beef bones, plus creations with chef-curated add-ins like the Gilligan made with Hearth broth, coconut milk, and ginger and the Oishi Oishi made with chicken broth, shiitake tea, reishi powder, roasted garlic purée, and grass-fed butter. Springbone similarly offers add-ins like ginger, kimchee juice, turmeric, coconut oil, and collagen protein.
"For me as a chef, the thing that's surprised me the most is that over two years of playing around with add-ins and concocting different beverages, it turns out that broth is like the perfect canvas for anything, the perfect medium to add flavor and influence to," Canora says. "You can do a million things to chicken broth to change its profile."
Unlike Springbone, there's no solid food on Brodo's menu, nor is there a place to congregate on laptops (or screen-free for that matter) at the new West Village location -- but the table-free shop still offers a warm space to sip your broth on a colder day. "We want this to be the new neighborhood coffee shop," Canora says. "[Bone broth] is really good for you: It has protein, carbohydrates… it's a great way to start your day."
Canora also says he loves having the shop in the West Village. "It's old New York," he says of the nostalgic, brownstone-lined streets that lead up to Brodo. The connection with his menu is significant: "We're serving something that's been around for 10,000 years, to get our health back."
And while Canora may have catalyzed the 21st-century bone broth trend (he even published the bone broth bible, Brodo: A Bone Broth Cookbook, in December 2015), and still leads the liquid revolution, he's aware that the broth gospel has spread to some entrepreneurial food disciples.
"I'm a big believer that all boats rise with the tide," he says of cafes like Springbone popping up and creating some healthy competition. "I want to get broth more recognized and accepted as a beverage."
So is a venti beef bone Frappuccino in our near future? Springbone already sold bone broth popsicles this past summer, and Canora doesn't rule out big-name food chains taking on the bone broth craze. "We live in a very capitalistic society, so if the demand grows, I think you'll find a lot of players entering the arena," he says, mentioning that local chain Dig Inn is testing the bone broth waters, and Panera Bread launched a "broth something or other" last year (the chain does, indeed, sell broth bowls, served with chicken wontons or cheese-filled pastas... just to remind you that you're not at a cool Paleo cafe). In the years since Brodo debuted, Canora has seen many products launching in the bone broth space. "As long as the demand is there, it's going to get incredibly crowded."
Price-wise, bone broth will still cost you more than your already overpriced latte. Springbone's broths start at $5 for a 10oz cup, while Brodo's 16oz broths start at $9 (a grande coffee of the same size is $2.10 at Starbucks, plus free refills) and reach over $11 for signature mix-in creations like the Spicy Nonna (roasted garlic puree, chili oil) or the Morning A Go-Go (bitter cacao, stimulating herbs, grass-fed butter).
"As things grow and there's more volume being produced, I'd like to think that price will come down over time," Canora says. But he also notes that he'd like people to "recalibrate" and realize that "really good-quality food is going to cost more than really crappy food." A steaming cup of Brodo broth is hardly an instant Cup Noodles Styrofoam soup.
"Instead of a cup of coffee, instead of a green juice, grab a cup of broth," Feldman advises. "It's a really convenient and tasty health drink that you can't really get anywhere else."
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