9 Bar Café
18 Erie St.
The Beatles have nothing on Stefania Cocozza when it comes to long winding roads. She landed in Jersey City by way of Rome, Seattle, southern California, and New York City. But her dedication to coffee is bred in the bones.
“I’ve been in coffee over 25 years,” she says. Yes, and “in coffee” is the right phrase. It’s not just something you drink; it’s something you live.
From the early ’90s in Seattle until recently, she worked for various coffee roasters.
She laughs about Americans, in the beginning, feeling gypped by tiny espressos instead of the buckets of American coffee they were accustomed to.
She opened 9 Bar Café about two years ago. “I’m trying to bring the true Italian experience, with a counter behind the espresso machine,” she says. “In our culture, coffee is really important, part of everyday life. It’s not about quantity. It’s about quality.”
OK, time to clarify the cafe’s name. It has nothing to do with the kind of bar you drink at. Stefania had to explain its real meaning so many times, that it’s posted in the café and on the website: “In order to properly extract a perfect 25 second shot of espresso a 9-Bar of pressure is necessary.”
You get the picture: Brew is serious business.
While working in Seattle, Stefania got “immersed in the coffee business. I learned everything you need to know about coffee, from bean to cup.”
That education included how coffee is harvested, the roasting process, and the properties of different types of coffee. She says Italians prefer blends, specifically medium dark.
When it comes to the coffee business, Stefania has been in sales and marketing and a consultant, and has had barista training.
She and her husband moved to Jersey City in 2004. “I always wanted to have a café,” Stefania says. “When I first moved to Jersey City, I wasn’t ready. I was by myself, not covered by an investor. It was too risky.”
For about two years, they lived in the Newport area. “We loved it,” she says. “It felt a little bit like Europe with the marina and a beautiful view of the city. We liked it right away. We loved the people, we felt very welcomed in the community, and saw the potential.”
She made a point to get to know her new town. “I studied the area,” she says, “and observed the types of people moving in.” She was pleased to see “four or five different gourmet stores within walking distance.”
Around January 2013, she was ready to look for a space.
Speaking of gourmet, food is important when you’re serving top-of-the-line coffee. “Everything’s handmade,” she says. “No premade sandwiches.” And no bagels.
Breakfast pastries include Italian doughnuts, known as Bamboloni, and shortbread cookies. “We do things very European,” she says. “The cookies are small, not gigantic.”
For lunch, salads include Dancing Goat, Burratina, and Quinoa. Sandwiches, which are made with home-baked focaccia, include prosciutto and mozzarella, and Caprese, which is mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.
For Stefania, it’s not enough just to run a great café. “We’re very much a part of the community,” she says. “We support several events.” She cites charities, such as breast cancer awareness, as well as local artists and performers.
She also offers coffee classes for home brewers, which cover such things as how to use the French press, how to pair coffee with desserts, and the kinds of grinds to use.
“We like to educate the client,” she says. “When people come in, we’re super consistent.” Everything is monitored by her and her trained staff. “It’s an experience when you come to see us,” she says. “It’s not just a cup of coffee. You ask, and you get the right answer.”
She’ll also cater your coffee break.
The coffee business is going so well, a second café is in the works at Harborside. And, who knows, she says, maybe a third.
“I’m very serious about what I do,” she says. I’m a coffee fanatic.”
95 Greene St.
Many of you will remember when this popular Japanese eatery was at 31 Montgomery St. It was noteworthy for its steep, upstairs locale. Though it had lots of regulars, “no one knew us,” owner Victor Octavianus worried. “We were hiding on the second floor.”
That problem was solved in August 2015, when the restaurant moved to foot-traffic-friendly 95 Greene St.
“It’s almost double the size,” Octavianus says. “It features a full bar, private space, and outside space,” with a sliver of a view of the Hudson River.
“With a full liquor license now,” he says, “the chef is challenged to pair foods with wine, beer, cocktails, and sake. One staff member is a certified sake adviser.”
“We’re proud of our sake selection,” Octavianus says, “and want more staff members to get this certification.”
Customers who reserve online can reserve their wine at the same time.
Honshu also has an award-winning whiskey list, including the rare Yamazaki and Kavallan labels.
Specialty cocktails include Lychee M with Titos vodka, Mr. Q with Brockman gin, and Coco 2.0, featuring unfiltered Japanese sake and homemade pandan butter.
One thing that hasn’t changed too much is the menu, though Octavianus says the restaurant is focusing on sushi and dropping ramen. News flash! It plans to open a separate ramen place.
A new sushi offering is omakase, which means “trust me.” In other words, “chef’s choice.” The fish is shipped directly from Japan, which means many Americans may not have tasted some of it before. Among the options are young barracuda, golden eye snapper, belt fish, butter fish, and needle fish.
Honshu also has widened its selection of oysters, including Kumamoto and Shigoku. Instead of the usual sauce, the chef uses spicy kimchi and yuzu ponzu foam. “We believe that it creates an airy texture that’s great for summer,” Octavianus says. “At happy hour, you will see oysters at almost every table.”
Of course, customers can watch the sushi chef at work and also talk directly to the chef about what fish he will be serving and how it will be prepared. Reservations are recommended to get the full benefit of this experience.
189 Brunswick St.
Talk about serendipity! Wait ’til you hear how these two business partners found each other. Ilana Libman was a mom of two and fairly new to Jersey City. She was feeling a little isolated and depressed.
“My kids were younger,” she relates, “and there was no support and nowhere to go with kids.” She was looking for a “friendly, safe environment” for parents and kids.
Six years ago, she decided to take action and put a business plan together and started looking for a “suitable space, but it was very hard to find a partner and make it work,” she says.
Thank God for birthday parties!
Single dad Jay Batra happened to be at the same party as Ilana. She had her hand on the doorknob, about to leave when he heard her talking about something he’d been thinking about for years.
“I lost my wife suddenly five years ago when my son was 4,” Jay says. “I got a lot of support from the Jersey City community. It made me turn from spending all my time at a corporate job to doing more with my son. I was hanging out with moms and being in the community.
“Kids under 5 are happy with what you give them,” he says, but as his son got older, he needed more options.
“I was big into fitness and went to the gym on a regular basis,” Jay says. “I’d take my son with me, but he was in a tiny room, and it was a struggle to give him the same level of activity that I was having.”
Meanwhile, his son loved the trampoline park, but Jay didn’t. “I wanted a facility in Jersey City that parents and children could both enjoy.”
Ilana took her hand off that doorknob and told Jay she had the exact same idea.
“It was 11 p.m., and we ended up spending three hours talking about a business plan,” Jay says. “I cancelled all my meetings at Morgan Stanley, called in sick, and went to look at a space with her.”
The first place they looked at didn’t work out, but the second one did—their current location at the Brunswick Center, which they opened in spring.
Jay admits to a fondness for TV’s American Ninja Warrior. “We could do that,” he remembers thinking. “Make it accessible to all ages for fitness and healthy fun.”
Ninja Warrior activities include the warped wall and speed wall, as well as virtual-reality roller coaster, soft play area, imagination playground, and obstacle course.
Two is Better than One
“He’s the perfect partner,” Ilana says. “We want the same things, the same goal, very similar.” Jay is the fitness guy, and Ilana is all about “creating community.” She’s in charge of the lounge and the coffee shop.
“In the lounge, in the coffee shop, everything is healthy,” she says. “We have juice and make smoothies right in front of you with real fruit. We also have organic cola with natural ingredients, organic potato chips, but no candy.”
The HealthBar Café serves a variety of hot and cold beverages and a range of smoothies with names like “Bumblebee” and “Hot Rod.”
A big part of integrating Hudson PLAY into the community is hosting local meetings and events, such as fundraisers and yoga activities. The facility’s 5,000-square-foot event space accommodates 350 people, offering a 200-inch HD projection video screen and high-end audio system.
“We know who we are and respect our customers,” Ilana says. “They work hard for their money, and if they spend their money here, we want to provide everything across the board.”
Says Jay, “I wanted to do something in Jersey City by way of giving back.”—Kate Rounds