Quarantine flooded New York with closing businesses, but a rare few opened for the first time. Split Eights, a coffee shop and bar in the Financial District, opened its doors mid-pandemic with a surprising amount of success.
Tucked away on Exchange Place, the new business operates as a coffee shop during the day, and a cocktail bar at night. The inside is dark with warm lighting, with a growing collection of dedicated clientele stopping by.
Co-owners Jess Che and Michael Klein started discussing the possibility of opening their own place about five years ago. They met and became friends while working at Matter House, a culinary agency that helps create new restaurants and communities. “I was the bar director and Che was the coffee director,” Klein told me. They helped do openings for other businesses, until they eventually decided to open one of their own.
Klein and Che originally planned for the business to open in March 2020, but for obvious reasons things did not go according to plan. “This place has been just sort of sitting like this for that whole time,” says Che. So, they put off the opening for a little while. After all, how long could this pandemic last?
In autumn that year they tried again. They opened for the first time in October 2020. While Split Eights succeeded in staying open for around two months, the success was short-lived. “It was always pretty imminent that we were going to shut down again,” says Che. “Cuomo kept on hinting that things were going to happen but there was no actual movement on it.” Without outdoor dining, still the only option last fall, the cocktails portion of their business was killed.
The area out front is unaccommodating for outdoor dining, and grab-and-go cocktails weren’t an option. So, Che and Klein’s dream was thwarted again.
“Fight for It”
They were able to keep the business alive, if incapacitated, by applying for PPP. “The fact that we had no previous sales, we had no previous payroll to go off of,” says Che, “we had to really fight for it.” They didn’t receive the amount of loans they wanted, but it was enough to keep their fledgling business financed until it could open.
Their landlord also helped keep them afloat. Split Eights’ management company owns several buildings with commercial spaces. “We were a much smaller part of the operation,” says Che, as compared to management companies with only a few retail spaces.
But with perseverance and months of closure, Split Eights officially opened on April 16, 2021.
Che expected the businesses to cater to people working in the area, but in the first few months most of the business came from the residents of FiDi. “We get to meet all of our neighbors and everybody who is working from home,” says Che.
Mateo Gonzales, who has worked at Split Eights for a whopping four days, credits the changing neighborhood for the increase in business. It’s changing into “something like Greenpoint where people actually live and have dogs and kids here.” Neither Gonzales nor Che expected there to be much of a neighborhood community, but there is. “It has a community of people that actually live here which is kind of expected,” says Gonzales.
One of the regulars is Cam (who prefers to be known by only his first name), who lives across the street and comes in every couple of days. “Mike makes a really good old-fashioned,” he says. He and Klein are in the middle of an argument about baseball. They bet $100 on how far the Yankees will make it in the playoffs. He teases that since Split Eights opened Klein and Che “are two of my closest people that I hate.”
The name, Split Eights, plays off the term in Blackjack. The business splits its talents: Che covers the coffee business in the morning, while Klein handles cocktails at night. Che joked that it comes from her and Klein being “really horrible together, but if we split this up, we might actually do something productive.”
A large part of the reason for the dual business was pure practicality. Letting the building sit “empty for half of the day just doesn’t make a ton of sense,” says Che. They also want to emphasize duality. “We want to be viewed as a cocktail bar in the evening and a coffee cafe in the morning, not just one [restaurant] that’s trying to do everything,” says Klein.
Now that they are open, money is still an issue. “People have kind of learned that there is no money to be made in restaurants,” Che says. I asked her how they plan to make money. “I mean I don’t,” she jokes. Klein and Che have both been working seven days a week since their business opened, which has luckily paid off in an increase in sales each month, despite Che’s fears.
And their business is still growing. Crown Shy, a restaurant in the Financial District, often sends customers down to Split Eights. “I went to school with one of their managers,” says Klein. “So, they’ve actually stared recommending us to some of their guests who’ve finished dinner.” With their connections to other businesses and their early success, hopefully Split Eights will continue to grow as we finally ease out of the pandemic.
“We want to be viewed as a cocktail bar in the evening and a coffee cafe in the morning, not just one [restaurant] that’s trying to do everything.” Michael Klein of Split Eights