Meet Tony Pantano, GM of our Bluestone Lane Café Collective in the West Village. Tony was nice enough to sit down and answer some questions about his background and the cafe he oversees.
Tell us about yourself (where are you from and how did you find yourself in New York and as GM Bluestone Lane Collective Cafe?)
I grew up in Melbourne and like most boys played Aussies rules and whatever other sports were thrown my way. I love the beach, fishing, watching sport & dining out. I did a short stint working in Sydney (unlike most Melburnians, I loved Sydney) for a hospitality marketing organization and was fortunate enough to be sent to New York. When I came to New York I met the team from Bluestone Lane and jumped at the opportunity to get back in to venue operations at the conclusion of my contract.
What was your hospitality and coffee background in Australia?
I begun my career in hospitality at 13. I was working in the world-renowned Italian restaurant district known as Lygon Street (aka Little Italy) as a dishwasher and server. Ever since then I’ve always been linked to hospitality, some say it just runs in your blood – my Italian grandparents opened the 2nd ever pizza shop in Australia. As my experience increased I grew within the hospitality industry and have been fortunate enough to work as a GM, a Marketing Director, in sales & also as an event planner. When I was in Melbourne I completed a degree in Hospitality Operations & also in Media / Communications.
For much of my career in Melbourne I worked with an award-winning coffee roaster and received formal Barista training.
What’s your general impression on the NYC coffee/cafe scene and do you think it’s changing? How does it compare from your hometown scene?
There is no doubt in my mind that there has been a significant shift in coffee consumption with the emergence of third-wave coffee. Champion brands of the US Market have altered the offerings to meet these new demands – it was widely publicized that Starbucks recently introduced the ‘flat white’ to their menu.
Australian’s are leading the charge in New York when it comes to the transformation from the Diner to the Cafe. These new cafes are changing consumer behavior with the introduction of healthy breakfast / brunch options. I believe that Cafe’s are not only meeting the the hunger demands of the punter but they are also providing New Yorker’s with an ‘experience’. Where else can you go and hear 100 Australian’s having a yarn at the one time?
How have you found managing Collective Cafe and what’s the most common feedback you get from customers when they come?
The first year has been an incredible journey for the Collective Café. We opened on the eve of summer and the support we received from the community was amazing. Thank you! Guests love the atmosphere of the space combined with quality coffee & health conscious food. They seem to appreciate the Aussie influence of the café & are interested in each of our journeys. Our Aussie ex-pat friends love the little slice of home in New York. We’re striving to continually improve and innovate to ensure we can provide our guests with an incredible experience each and every time.
Talk to us about the menu – what are the most popular food and beverage dishes? Are there items where customers simply go “Holy Smokes Batman”?
Our menu has been inspired by the Melbourne Café scene – healthy, fast and fresh seasonal food. The Avocado Smash has been the champion of the menu however there’s been strong competition from our Coconut Quinoa Porridge and the Fritters (both the Corn & Pumpkin).
The Flat White is by far the most commonly ordered Coffee. We’re converting many to the Magic also. There’s been a significant increase in the adoption of Almond milk; far more than we anticipated.
With Spring at our doorstep, what’s in stall for Summer at Collective Cafe?
We are on the verge of launching a fantastic spring menu and there are certainly going to be some new items on there that will change the game for New York brunches. Figs, Strawberries and edible flowers will be the trends for this summer.
We’ve got some great plans for our sidewalk café & some exciting collaborations with some of New York’s greatest brands.
Top 3 tips in Managing a NYC cafe?
1. Surround yourself with a team that is as passionate about the brand as you are
2. Know your clientele & exceed their expectations
3. Speed. New Yorker’s move faster than anyone in the world, their experience in a café must meet those demands