As part of our Q&A series, Morningsider brings you exclusive interviews with neighborhood “Insiders.” This month, we interview Karl Franz Williams, founder of two popular Harlem institutions: 67 Orange Street and Society Coffee.
Karl Franz Williams opened his first restaurant, Society Coffee, in the spring of 2005. Society has a mantra of “Life in Sips” and provides both a brunch and an all day menu, to be paired with their renowned coffee, wine and beer. Since its opening in 2005, Society Coffee has earned recognition not only from its neighbors, but from ABC News Neighborhood Eats, AOL, FOX, The New York Times, and was even mentioned in the top selling book café life NEW YORK – An Insider’s Guide to the City’s Neighborhood Cafés.
67 Orange Street, which opened in December of 2008 to critical acclaim, is a classic cocktail bar that takes its name from the address of one of the first successful black-owned bars in New York City circa 1847. 67 Orange Street today boasts excellent ratings in every category by Zagat, and has received strong reviews from New York Magazine, the New York Post, and The New York Times.
In this Q&A, Karl Franz gives Morningsider the inside scoop about his restaurants:
Questions for Karl Franz Williams:
1. How did you get into the restaurant business?
It happened very organically for me. I’ve always enjoyed hosting parties and entertaining friends. Deciding to open a restaurant was an opportunity to further that passion. It gave me the chance to create something fun and pleasing that I could share with many people at once. It’s always been about the people.
2. Society Coffee and 67 Orange Street both have very unique atmospheres; how did you determine what you wanted each to be like?
I have a background in brand management and marketing, having worked at Procter & Gamble, Pepsi and Mr. Youth. So it was very important to make sure that as I was creating the identities for my restaurants that they were unique, ownable, special, and memorable. I wanted them to be distinct from others and have a strong [point of view] you wouldn’t forget.
3.What is your favorite of the specialty cocktails at 67 Orange Street? Can you share the recipe with us?
My favorite tends to change regularly. I love creating cocktails, so my favorite is often whatever I’m working on at the moment. Right now I’m drinking the Hayman’s Tea. It’s a cocktail I make with Earl Grey Infused Old Tom Gin, St. Germain, Honey Syrup, and Fresh Lemon Juice; it’s super delicious and refreshing. Time Out Magazine picked it as one of the best summer cocktails in NYC too!
4. Are there any new cocktails or coffees coming out in the near future?
Absolutely. We update our cocktail menu regularly at 67 Orange, every quarter. Right now we are working on our fall menu. I’ve got some things I’m excited about. For example, I will be working with a Mezcal for the first time on our menu. That smoky agave flavor will be great in some cocktails. At Society we are into very specialized artisanal coffees. So we always bring in great single origin varietals from all over the world. You can try something new there almost every few weeks.
5. Do you have plans to open any other establishments in Harlem (or elsewhere) in the future?
I have ideas, I think there is a lot of opportunity here. We’ll see….
6. What is your favorite part about being a business owner?
I love walking in and seeing people smiling and having a great time. There is nothing like overhearing that cell phone call that goes something like this, “Hey, yeah, I’m at Society, and OH MY, those red velvet waffles, WOW!” I love that people really enjoy what I do!! My other favorite part is just getting into the strategy of growing a business. You come up with good smart ideas, do them, and watch your business grow. That’s the best.
7. Anything else you would like to add?
Hope to see you soon at 67 Orange Street or Society Coffee!!
67 Orange Street
2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd., near 113th St.
2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd. at 114th St.