Two young immigrants who started a coffee company in Brooklyn have just secured $25 million in funding to take their business to the next level.
Vinay Menda, 29, and Issam Freiha, 26, announced Wednesday that their Brooklyn-born coffee retail company Blank Street has just secured the $25 million in Series A funding, on top of an earlier $7 million in seed funding.
“Blank Street has quickly established itself as the newest contender in NYC’s high-growth specialty coffee race,” Blank Street Board Member and Harvard Business school professor Youngme Moon said of the funding.
Blank Street is a specialty coffee company that operates out of small spaces.
Its growth story almost beggars belief. Menda and Freiha’s first debuted Blank Street’s first location — a mobile coffee cart — in August 2020 at Williamsburg’s Wythe Diner.
Just one year later, the company now operates 15 locations throughout New York City. The locations include a mix of tiny brick-and-mortar spaces — about the quarter of the size of an average cafe, as well as mobile (zero-emission) street carts.
Menda is Indian and was raised in Dubai. He moved to New York to attend college at NYU. Freiha is Lebanese and has lived in Beirut, London and Dubai. He moved to New York to attend college at Columbia University.
The pair met during college. Soon after graduating, they co-founded Reshape, a NY-based venture capital fund with $100 million of assets under management.
They said, at the time, they were closely watching a cluster of high-growth, mobile-first, food-retail businesses making waves in Asia, such as Kopi Kenangan in Indonesia and the Chinese brand Heytea.
Both brands achieved explosive growth by selling high-quality coffee and tea from tiny retail spaces.
Menda said he and Freiha realized the coffee market in the United States was underdeveloped, and saw an opportunity.
“We could take high-quality products, starting with specialty coffee, and make them more convenient and affordable through our unique approach to real estate,” he said.
“By shrinking our location footprint, and therefore shrinking our fixed costs, we could offer specialty food and beverage at a lower price point than our competitors — and scale up much faster.”
Freiha said he grew up in a culture where he mostly drank coffee at home, so it was a revelation for him to come to New York and see coffee vendors on every street corner.
He saw opportunity in combining the things students were looking for at various different coffee retailers.
“I noticed my friends going to Starbucks for the convenience, Dunkin’ for the price point, and specialty coffee shops for the quality. But as students, we couldn’t afford a $6 cappuccino every day.
“What we needed was a one-stop shop: a place to get exceptional coffee at an accessible price point, crafted with speed and efficiency.”
The company has scaled up rapidly, and has no plans to stop. Blank Street says it has the ambitious goal of operating 100 locations throughout NYC by the end of 2022.
It also says the new funding will spur the launch of “Powered By Blank Street,” a wholesale partnership agreement designed to empower local vendors to sell in new neighborhoods without the hassle of finding expensive storefronts.
Already, Blank Street sells a range of Brooklyn-made goods: coffee from Parlor Coffee, Gertie bagels, items from King Street Baking Co. and King David Tacos.
Blank Street can be found in Williamsburg, McCarren Park, Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill, DUMBO, Cobble Hill, SoHo, Washington Square Park and the Upper East Side.
Its investors for this round of funding was led by General Catalyst and Tiger Global, and includes funding from the founders of Warby Parker, Harry’s and Allbirds and from real estate firm Tishman Speyer.
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