Community at the 1st Avenue Coffee Shop and Beyond!

It’s just a little diner, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is a very special waitress who has single-handedly built a strong and diverse community amongst its many customers: a community that has taken on a life of its own.  A number of years ago I met Susie, my ‘guru at the coffee shop’ around the corner from a group I am involved with.  Here is this super-friendly woman flying around the café, with impeccable control of all the details all the while making you feel like you are her only customer.

Suzie (center) and Harry at the 1st Avenue Coffee Shop

Suzie (center) and Harry at the 1st Avenue Coffee Shop

She has created a place where all are welcomed, everyone is a favorite and no one is excluded.  I don’t know if she has a spiritual practice, or if she is a religious person, but I do know that she practices kindness, excellence in every action, and a positive approach in all relations.  I have never seen her act out of anger – well, okay, maybe a little edginess with her boss, but who isn’t guilty of that?  All the same, Susie never has a harsh word or act for anyone.

I soon found that our rather demanding group were not the only ones to benefit by her presence:  The sanitation workers, the different 12-step crowds, the elderly, the neighborhood regulars, the men and women in suits were all drawn in by her warmth.  Sure, everyone knows and loves Susie; she has the key to the church in case you are locked out, knows who is sick, who is house bound, what is going on in the world and in the news.  She is the facilitator at the counter, the peacemaker, and the CEO.  Nonetheless, the real magic happens when the groups and people intersect.

What do these strangers have in common?  At first it’s Susie; then later, they find their common human connections amongst their differences.  It’s more than just a good customer experience.  There is something miraculous going on here; the diner, by way of its ambassador Susie, has become an institution in itself, its own UN of everyday life.  It’s a place to connect with others, to feel part of, and be connected to something larger than oneself.  Isn’t that what we all really long for?

To test my theory about community I decided to sit next to one of my favorite regulars to observe, and maybe ask a few questions.  Ian Harry sits at the counter across from the cash register where everyone travels at some point or other.   Surrounded by his buddies—guys he met throughout the past few years—they joke real loud, share the paper and debate the current events.  Finally alone I ask him why he comes to the diner every day?  Here is what he said: “The food is good. I meet people from the community. It’s like a Ma and Pa Diner.  In other diners you can’t connect with people so easily.  This a good place to come since my wife died 2 years ago.”

He went on to explain:  “My wife and I were married for 36 years. She had breast cancer; it spread to her bones and then her brain.  I cared for her, as she got sicker and sicker; it was tough. She died on her 53rd birthday – she just put her head down and died.”

“I used to come here before with my son,  but after my wife died, I come every day.   I walk down the street in a neighborhood I’ve lived in for 30 years and now I know so many people from the diner, I’m always saying hi to someone!  Didn’t used to be that way!”

Susie has helped to create a place where people like Harry (his last name) and many others can find the connection and the community they have been looking for.  I count myself among the lucky.  How about you?  Do you have a place to call your own?

Oh, and by the way, if you want to visit the 1stAvenue Coffee Shop, it is on 1st Avenue between E. 74th and 75th on the west side of the street, and tell Susie and Harry that I sent you!

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12 Responses to “Community at the 1st Avenue Coffee Shop and Beyond!”

  1. Marlena Sonn says:

    Thanks, Linda, loved reading about Suzie and the diner – such a slice of life, and very inspiring to me to practice kindness!

  2. Pam Bennett says:

    Lovely job. You captured a very important part of living in New York City. We find our communities in many different ways in this huge City where one can stay anonymous or one can connect with the most diverse, generous and interesting people in the world.

    For me your view of Susie and the Diner represent a glimpse at our need for community and how we can create environments that are inclusive and welcoming and supportive of ourselves and our neighbors. Susie’s approach to her work and her day is the glue to the community coming together around her.

    Thank you.

  3. Beth Reed says:

    Great story, Linda. And yes, grass-roots community building is just about the most important thing each of us, in our own way, can do.

  4. Heather says:

    Thank you very sweet story expressed well. Now I know that at lease you and Suzie are honoring each other today, which touches my heart sincerely.

  5. Cristine Martino says:

    Great article, and very inspiring…. GO SUSIE!!!!!

  6. michael colette says:

    Thanks Linda , that is a perfect descriptiion of Susie and her Spirit. Your story brought a smile to my face as well as the insight to try and be more like Susie in my everyday walk through life. Great Job!!!!!

  7. ben tousley says:

    Linda, I hope you’ll write more about this community experience and what makes it meaningful for so many. Thanks for your bold exploration!

  8. Marie says:

    Linda, I am so proud and honored to say that I am part of the this community. Thank you for helping me to touch the “pause” button and stop and appreciate the moments at “Suzie’s”! On mornings when I walk through that door, I can encounter and be encountered by people that have become so dear to me. The ambiance at this diner is not the lighting, table, chairs or even the food – (although Suzie knows exactly how everyone likes their scrambled eggs) — the ambiance is the people — and eternally grateful that I can call that community “my family”!!!!


    Wow, thanks everyone for your responses. I was happy to receive so many emails and posts and attribute this to the power of community!

  10. Jim Provenza says:

    Wow. Great Article! Makes me want to visit New York and eat at this diner.

  11. LINDA PROVENZA says:

    Yes and we will when you visit! I know you will love it and Suzie, reminds me of the diner we went to in Spokane.

  12. Hey this is a great write up. Can I use a portion of it on my page? I would obviously link to your site so people could read the complete post if they wanted to. Thanks either way.

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