Brooklyn Heights

Coffee cart on Brooklyn Heights Promenade causes brew-haha

"But the coffee is very good."

November 16, 2022 Mary Frost, Brooklyn Daily Eagle Conflict Bureau
Share this:

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — A frisson of excitement broke out in the neighborhood the other day when a fancy blue coffee cart appeared on the beloved Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Inside the cart, two men were selling coffee.

Now you may think, “That’s convenient, I like coffee.” 

But not so fast.

Vendors have never before been allowed on the landmarked Promenade, and alarm quickly spread throughout the community via the Nextdoor neighborhood app, the Brooklyn Heights Blog and letters to this very paper, the Brooklyn Eagle.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

The consensus: This was the beginning of a “Slippery Slope.”

“I have contacted the Parks Depart and the Council as well as the BHA [Brooklyn Heights Association] — although someone mentioned that the BHA advocated for this — so what does that mean? Food trucks on the Promenade now?” wrote one neighborhood resident, whose name we will not mention. She added, “But the coffee is very good.”

Another wrote, “Whether they act and toss this cart off is anyone’s guess. As I posted below, capitalism seems to have free rein in the Heights these days.”

“So the Brooklyn Heights Association, supported by [Councilmember] Lincoln Restler’s office AND the Parks Dept, thought it might be a good idea to try out letting an upscale coffee truck set up ON THE PROMENADE. Smack up against the railing looking across to the Statue of Liberty …  What an incredibly crappy idea this is. Sullying one of the gems of the city and one of the last bastions of non-commercial space. And clearly this would open the floodgates to more trucks. How could it not?” wrote another.

Strong words.

Obviously, Brooklyn Heights residents love their Promenade. There’s a reason for this. They have spent years defending it (successfully, so far) from the predations of the city’s own Department of Transportation, which recently tried to replace it with a six-lane superhighway. (This is not a joke.)

On Monday, we at the Brooklyn Eagle Conflict Bureau put on our “Press” vests and ventured down to the Promenade, to (as we say in the profession) “check it out.”

The Deploy Coffee cart is owned by two Navy veterans, Daniel Singh (left) and company founder Jimmy Lai.
Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

What our investigation uncovered

We found that the coffee cart had moved off the actual Promenade to a position at the Montague Street entrance. Inside the cart were two cheerful guys — Deploy Coffee founder Jimmy Lai and his partner Daniel Singh — and an amazingly array of coffee making equipment.

It turns out that Lai and Singh are U.S. Navy veterans who met when they were both stationed in Japan, and they hope to eventually “deploy coffee” around the city. Lai received the first and only Promenade peddlers license based on being a disabled veteran, and the duo worked with the Parks Department, BHA and Restler to set up a pilot program. 

After BHA began getting flak from neighbors, the pair relocated to the Promenade entrance. They told the Eagle they will try out another location next week, probably near Pierrepont Playground.

“We’re going to try to find a good location over there where we’re not too intrusive for residents coming in and out of the playground,” Singh said.

There won’t be any further peddlers licenses issued for the Promenade, Lai said. “There’s only one permit and currently we are the holders of it.”

The Deploy Coffee cart is owned by two Navy veterans, Daniel Singh (left) and company founder Jimmy Lai.
Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Promoting veteran entrepreneurship

Lai and Singh said they hope that Deploy Coffee will help promote veteran entrepreneurship. 

“The transition is definitely tough for a veteran,” Lai said. “Even if we’re hired by a company that is veteran friendly, it sometimes seems like we don’t fit in. There’s a lot of things we’re not used to, the work environment especially. And everything always feels like a handout to us. But this is something that we actually earned on our own, and being veteran entrepreneurs, we can actually make something of ourselves.”

Lai added, “Quite frankly, there’s not enough younger veterans taking advantage of all these programs that are out there.”

Singh said they use ethically sourced and organically grown beans from Onyx Coffee, a specialty roaster in Arkansas. “We sell anything on the espresso side: Americanos, lattes, cortados, and everything iced as well. We also sell whole beans and we grind for a lot of the residents who want to make their own at home,” he said. (The cart also sells teas.)

“We also sell the MOAB, which is our own drink,” Singh said. (In military parlance, MOAB stands for Massive Ordnance Air Blast. You were warned.)

Deploy Coffee will be open Mondays and Tuesdays (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) for November and December, and most likely next spring — if all goes well. (We’re not so sure about that.)

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade, with its peaceful atmosphere and its scenic views, has attracted local residents and tourists alike since the 1950s. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

BHA: No slippery slope. We swear. 

BHA sent out a Veterans Day email welcoming the coffee stand and doing a wee bit of damage control.

“We are proud to be working with Jimmy and Danny,” BHA wrote. “Their cart was stationed on the Promenade this week, but in response to feedback from some in the neighborhood, we have asked Deploy to locate the cart next week at the intersection of Montague Terrace and Montague Street, and not on the Promenade itself.” 

On Sunday, BHA Executive Director Lara Birnback reassured the Eagle that there is no slippery slope.

“There is no intention to bring more food/beverage trucks to the area — we aren’t in favor of any fundamental change to the nature of the Promenade and it will remain a place to read, walk, meet friends, and quietly contemplate the views,” she said.

Readers are encouraged to send their comments, both warm and cold, to [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment