Interview with co-founder, David Steingard
Originally a small quintessential coffee shop for Tribecans, founded on a simple belief that business and fair trade can be a vehicle for positive change, The Laughing Man, still a local hang-out serving great coffee, has real global reach and impact via its Laughing Man Foundation. Co-founder David Steingard sat with T.A.P to explain his and partner, Hugh Jackman’s, passion to facilitate transformational development of coffee farming communities through fair trade.
Where did you grow up?
Born and raised in Tribeca. I am a kid from Duane Street. Used to play stickball on this very block amongst the butter and egg delivery trucks.
Where do you call home now?
We are lucky enough to raise our kids on Duane Street too. They go to PS234 and call Washington Market their park.
What is your business best known for?
I think we are best known, I hope, for our hospitality and sense of community. But for a drink, I would say we are best known for our Flat White – sort of an Australian version of a cappuccino – smooth and strong.
How did you start your business?
I sort of grew up in the coffee business. My father had the Cupping Room on West Broadway, so I remember hanging out there when younger. But I did not come to this directly. I was a criminal prosecutor in the Brooklyn DA’s office for years, but wanted to get back into coffee. It was sort of at the same time, that Hugh Jackman and I talked and decided to start Laughing Man.
How long have you been in business?
Hugh talked to me back in 2009 about his trip with his wife to Ethiopia to see the work being done by World Vision Australia lifting overseas communities out of poverty. One such community was where Hugh met Dukale the Ethiopian coffee farmer, who was trying to make a better life for his family. Hugh thought we could make a positive impact for Dukale and others like him, and that’s when we decided to launch Laughing Man Coffee in 2011.
When and why did you move your business to Tribeca?
Being in this community was a natural decision for us, plus we had a space that, although small, would ultimately help us become a Tribeca coffee shop hang-out.
What is the best part about being in Tribeca?
The Tribeca community here is great. They have been so supportive of our mission from the very start, and have help foster our very mission of community.
What percentage of your business is local?
I would say about 70% of our business here on Duane Street are locals. And about 25% are “local” people who work in Tribeca.
How do you market your business/shop?
Primarily we market via word of mouth, but obviously having Hugh as a partner and the accompanying press has helped propel Laughing Man forward, and our partnership with Green Mountain /Keurig has allowed us to have national outreach and extend Laughing Man coffee to a much wider market.
What advice would you give anyone starting a business in Tribeca?
I think the most important thing is to listen to your market. Laughing Man has grown and transformed organically, if you will, these last seven years by listening to our community and changing the range of products we provide.
What else did you want us to know?
We are expanding the Duane Street shop into the larger adjacent space. We are very excited about having this larger space so we can accommodate more people, especially in colder and rainy weather, and this will also allow us to provide community space for Tribeca to meet and foster more community – which is at the heart of what we are really all about.