Easy Villager Robert Galinsky pours his heart out (literally) when it comes to coffee
Four hundred million cups of coffee are sipped every day in the United States alone. One dedicated java drinker, East Village resident Robert Galinsky, recognized just how many different kinds of people in New York come together in their quest for the perfect cup. Because of this observation, he decided to start an entire coffee campaign that began with raising money for a themed show, Coffee the Musical.
Through donations from complete strangers and supportive friends, he collected an impressive $50,000. Most recently, he continued his mission to spread the power of coffee by compiling quotes from friends, celebrities, and industry experts in the book Coffee Crazy: 140 "Aha!" Coffee Moments from the Conference Room, to the Café, to the Kitchen. To get into the spirit of our phone interview, I brewed a cup of regular coffee, and Galinsky just finished his morning espresso at Ninth Street Espresso by Avenue C, where he is a regular.
You started thinking about coffee from an artist's perspective after your job forced you to drink it at all hours.
In the mid '90s, I was standing in line every morning watching people from all walks of life- punk rockers, people starting their business day, interns fetching coffee, partiers who hadn't gone to sleep yet from the night before. Everybody was dedicated to this drink. It dawned on me that it's about fashion, passion, and wonder. There's a certain sense of fashion to coffee which is all about where you are going to get it, who you're with, and what your drink is. I love passionate people; I don't care what they're passionate about. My mind is always working theatrically, so when I saw that passion for the drink, it made total sense to me that this is something that should be brought to the stage. I think it's a billion dollar idea. It's a billion dollar industry, because you have people dedicated to this product.
Mark Schoenfeld, the writer of Brooklyn the Musical, loved your idea. Was he a friend of yours?
I went to a play in the East Village, and after it, everyone was gathered around this guy wearing a black beret and black turtleneck. I was with my girlfriend at the time and said, "We have to find out who he is." She leaves to investigate, and comes running back and says, "That's the writer of the musical Brooklyn." Unfortunately I hadn't heard about it, but could feel the energy around this guy. I introduced myself and we clicked. We had coffee the next day and developed a friendship. I told him about my idea and being this older, Jewish dude from the Bronx, he said, "Now you're talking like a producer. Go to people, ask for their money, and make it happen."
How did you raise all that money?
You build a webpage, and all of the sudden, you have a business. I put together a page with a really beautiful graphic of coffee beans, the name of the musical, and quotes from Mark. Then, I called friends of mine. The third guy I went to said, "I'm in."
Sixty percent of your funding came from complete strangers.
I went to Kickstarter and put up a campaign that ran for about 40 days. I learned a ton about crowdsourcing. That was the beautiful and amazing thing, 150 people I didn't even know sent me money.
How did you get celebrities to contribute to the book?
I just asked. I've been here for a little while, so I know a few people who have a certain amount of prominence. Again, it was this contagious passion, where people who dig coffee were like, "I can ask for you."
When your musical gets to Broadway, what would your dream cast look like?
That's a great question. Jay O. Sanders, Alan Cumming, Shannon Hamm, Mary Birdsong.
What's the storyline of the show?
It's constantly shifting, and now, with this book, it's shifting even more. It's what happens in a small coffee shop- the reoccurring characters, the new people who show up-the relationships between the barista and the customers, between the baristas themselves, and the barista and manager. And the looming question of whether or not mainstream will come and spoil this mom-and-pop shop.
Do you drink "corporate coffee?"
No, I drink mom-and-pop coffee.
I like Think Coffee and Vive La Crepe, and they have multiple locations in the city.
It's not so much I don't drink corporate coffee. It depends on the corporation. There are these little ones like The Bean that started out small and now have nine locations. That's still mom and pop to me because the owners are still the original ones. Ninth Street Espresso is now in Chelsea Market, which is great. That's like a gold mine for them. But I don't drink Starbucks. I'll be in the suburbs, visiting my family in Connecticut, and it could be the last place open, but I'll go through withdrawals before I go there.
What is your typical coffee order?
A single or double espresso. That's my thing. I don't drink drip coffee. A nice, bold demitasse.
You founded the first and only school for reality TV, the New York Reality TV School, where you train people to go on reality shows.
People who watch reality TV and get hooked are watching an authentic, visceral experience. If you want to be on a show, and think you can fake something, or be someone other than who you really are, you're going to fail. I want people to know who they are. That's the training.
Tell us about your mission to make your block a better place.
My block faces the Campos Plaza Projects. The teens on my block are very influenced by their surroundings- the visual elements that are both positive and negative. And I feel that being able to project positive and fun images on the corner of the block is important. Children walk by every day to go to school, elders walk to shop, transplants discover the beauty of the East Village, and teens hang out late. There is an ongoing war between the Avenue C Boys and the Avenue D Boys and there are shootings and, unfortunately, a continuation of teenage casualties as a result of guns and knives. So I have taken it upon myself to be proactive about pushing images on the walls that do not reinforce the culture of greed and violence. Currently, artists commissioned on the walls include Chico, Deps, RAE_BK, Joey John, and Zimad. We have images of dinosaurs, animated Japanese characters, the poet Gil Scott Heron and his famous quote, "The revolution will not be televised," and messages of peace from the great young peace ambassador Mattie J. T. Stepanik and the We Are Family Foundation's Three Dot Dash Peace Program. I've also worked for four years to get the city to grant a lease for the abandoned storefront on the corner and now it's leased to a great artist group called Gothamsmith and we now have a pop-up store and pop gallery in operation called Special on C.
You also work with charity organizations here in Manhattan.
My goal in New York City is to build my legend. When I pass, I want people to think of New York. I want to make some change. I work with the We Are Family Foundation. I volunteer with Lollipop Theater, and work with terminally ill kids. I'm into making art, but for me, art is about making change.
Follow Robert: @robertgalinsky and his book: @CoffeeCrazyaha on Twitter
To learn more about the author, visit www.galinskyplace.com