The Penny House Cafe in Prospect Heights opened its doors in March 2010 and has remained bustling with Wi-Fi workers, coffee lovers, and hungry locals ever since. Offering more than just coffee on the thriving strip of shops on of Washington Avenue has made this cafe a great stop for a snack or a meal.
Many customers plop into comfortable seats in the back with laptop and coffee in tow, fueled to work throughout the day. Foot traffic on Washington Avenue is not always heavy, says owner Omar Cooley, 29, but folks stumble upon the café throughout the day and pop in to chat over a cup of joe. Like many of his laptop-wielding customers, Omar is focused on entrepreneurship – previously a security officer, he left that career to start his own business.
Like the plethora of coffee spots that dot the gentrifying blocks of Washington Avenue just north of the Brooklyn Museum – Glass Shop, Sit and Wonder, Ortine, and mainstay Joyce Bakeshop – Penny House has attracted a loyal clientele through word of mouth buzz and friends in the community. Some Penny House favorites include chai lattes, mochas, bacon egg and cheese sandwiches, and veggie cream cheese made in-house. Baked goods arrive daily from Terrace Bagels in Windsor Terrace and Omar hopes to expand the menu in the new year to include even more filling soups, sandwiches and baked goods.
“I’d like to see this become a more popular hangout spot,” Omar said, adding that patrons can expect to see more tables for digital workspace soon, and perhaps a book club or poetry reading event, with local artists’ work featured on the walls.
Penny House offers fresh food and a quiet, cozy atmosphere that encourages customers to sit and stay. With people pinching pennies these days, the menu graciously provides affordable options like a very cheesy egg sandwich for $3.25, Rainforest Alliance-certified La Colombe coffee for $1.75 and sandwich wrap options like grilled chicken, tuna salad, turkey burger starting at $5.50. Grilled cheese sandwichs come in a variety – American, Swiss or cheddar – starting at $4. Bagel and lox spread goes for a mere $3.50 or grab the crunchy BLT for only $3.95. For the laziest among us, breakfast is served until 1pm weekdays and 3pm on weekends. Food at Penny House is always made fresh on the premises.
Though he has felt the effects of the recession on his business, Omar says he remains optimistic. He does not view the other coffee shops as competition like last year’s scuttle on nearby Franklin Avenue, and he believes Penny House is providing a different service to the community than just coffee and cake. For him, selling coffee is ubiquitous – not competitive.
“I feel very welcome in the neighborhood and I don’t feel like I have competition,” says Omar. “I love the people in the neighborhood. They’re so nice and friendly.”
When discussion turned to the future of his business, Omar asserted he would like to see additional Penny House locations, adding, “You just gotta ride the wave.”