Every restaurateur in Manhattan recognizes that space is at a premium, can be very costly, and often forces start-ups to cram into tiny spaces. And then there’s Fellini Coffee Bar, which opened on July 14th in the West Village on a triangular corner of 7th Avenue, Waverly Place and Perry Street and measures a mere l6 square feet of indoor space.
It has no indoor seating, but somehow or other, two employees work in this tight, cramped space, one taking orders and the barista who makes the Italian coffee. It accommodates about 20 seats outdoor, looking like a café that belongs in Italy.
Its co-owner 24-year-old Francesco Vagliasindi was involved in developing Tivoli Trattoria, the pizzeria/Italian eatery, that is connected to Fellini’s Coffee Bar. While setting up Tivoli, Vagliasindi had what he calls a “lightbulb moment and thought a coffee machine would fit perfectly like a gem in that corner.” So Fellini’s Coffee was born.
“It operates as a separate business,” he said, but it’s an offshoot of Tivoli Trattoria. It used the excess space to inaugurate a distinct, outdoor coffee shop.
The Tivoli Group capitalized the project, giving Vagliasindi the go-ahead to operate it, where he also serves as a minority investor. At Tivoli Trattoria, he did a bit of everything including hosting, serving and overseeing the menu, the perfect background to become a restaurateur. He’s also a senior at Baruch College, majoring in international marketing, but took some time off to get Fellini’s off the ground.
It receives about 20 pastries in the morning, but once they sell out, its inventory doesn’t get replenished so there’s no food waste. Then it specializes in coffee, espresso drinks, cold brews and lattes but it also sells wine. It offers no drip coffee because it doesn’t have the room for the coffeemaker, though it plans on introducing it in the fall.
It uses Tivoli Trattoria’s liquor license and sells most of its wine between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. and sometimes stays open until midnight. Weekends more people drink wine earlier, he added.
“It’s very romantic,” Vagliasindi said, especially when he puts on particular music that creates a scene, such as classic Frank Sinatra songs or John Coltrane’s music.
It’s so tiny that it has no cash register, and only accepts payment by credit card, despite a City Council law that all establishments must accept cash so as not to discriminate against the approximate 10% of New Yorkers who have no credit or debit card.
Some people like the fact that there’s no door to open or handle to maneuver, so everything is fast, quick, in and out, he suggested.
It roasts its own Fellini’s espresso beans for every cup of coffee. “It’s a way to show off our Italian side,” noted the owner. It also maintains an ice machine in its cramped spaces for iced coffee drinks, and the owner vows it has some room for storage of items.
How will it cope in the wintertime when guests won’t be sitting outside in New York’s frostier colder months? He replied, “When winter arrives and it’s chilly, we’ll bring in outdoor heaters to keep thing warm. Our coffee windows will stay open for quick to-go orders.”
He expects that business will stay steady even in the cold of winter. “People will come to Fellini’s instead of going to a coffee cart,” he noted.
It’s located a stone’s throw from Sogno Toscano, a Tuscany-inspired wine bar, coffee bar and retail store, and Vagliasindi said the two operations have been working in tandem. “We have a commercial synergy and nothing like competition,” he exuded. He considered this triangle in the West Village as part of the Italian connection.
He says the secret of Fellini’s Coffee initial success has been “the simplicity of its menu and warmth of its staff that treat guests like family. People come here to feel welcome, if not, they could go to Starbucks,,” he said.
He, of course, was inspired by the Italian film director Federico Fellini, and his two favorite films of his are “8 ½” and “City of Women.”
Vagliasindi described its target market as a “mix of locals and regulars. Fellini’s was meant to be a spot where the neighborhood comes together and hangs out, just like back in Europe. Since I moved from Sicily, I always wanted a place like Fellini for myself and never found one. So I decided to create it.”
Now he describes Fellini’s Coffee as part of the mosaic of New York City. “It fits right into New York City’s rhythm. It’s like we broke down a wall so people passing by can hop in easily,” he said. When this reporter visited, tables were filled up and a very convivial atmosphere ensued. Just like in Rome or Naples.
His goal: open more Fellini’s Coffee Bars in the future, and maybe next time, a bit larger, with maybe even, indoor seating and a bigger kitchen area.