The City of Newburgh has seen a number of new shops and restaurants pop up over the last few years, transforming Liberty Street into a must-see Hudson Valley destination. The city’s newest popular coffee shop Blacc Vanilla, however, is located away from the hub over on South Street, and that’s exactly how owners Jerrod Lang and Melanie Collins like it.
The café has been a long time in the making. Collins originally hails from the Albany region, but moved to Newburgh 17 years ago to work as a flight attendant at Stewart Airport. It was there she met Lang, at the Terrace Lounge on Liberty Street, and it was love at first sight. Even then, Lang had dreams of owning a business in Newburgh.
“On one of our first dates, we were coming down South Street and [Jerrod] said to me, I’m going to buy that building. This building,” Collins recalled, referring to Blacc Vanilla. “And I said, no we’re not!” she added, laughing. Lang’s fondness for the neighborhood comes from his childhood memories of growing up around the corner on North Miller Street. For him, this building was especially important because of its proximity to the community, and after sitting vacant for over 15 years, he hoped to put in a business that could have a positive impact on the neighborhood. Collins caught the vision, and about four years ago the couple purchased the building.
Today, when you walk into Blacc Vanilla you’ll find a chic lounge environment, complete with black leather chairs, decorative chandeliers, and colorful modern paintings of black hip-hop icons like Chance the Rapper and Drake. The kitchen boasts a micro-roaster and freshly brewed, single-origin coffee, with the added bonus of fresh food like their black bean burger. But Collins and Lang hadn’t always imagined they would run a coffee shop. Originally, the couple thought they would own something more typical for the area, like a deli or grocery store.
“We were more or less thinking in the beginning, in and out. People were going to come in, get what they needed, and leave. Because we couldn’t imagine then that people would actually want to come here and sit down, on the corner of South and North Miller,” explained Collins.
Fortunately, as the couple waited to open the business, it became clear that coffee was more in line with their vision of bringing the community together. The couple settled on the name “Blacc Vanilla,” a wordplay that has come to represent everything they wanted for their business: unity, community, and diversity. Perhaps one of the most distinctive things about their coffee shop is how comfortable it makes people feel, drawing people of diverse ages and backgrounds. Collins compares it to “walking into your mom’s living room, or your best friend’s house … It just feels good. I think that’s the reason why it’s been so successful so quickly.”
Since Blacc Vanilla’s grand opening on October 15, 2017, which included an outdoor concert and ribbon cutting, the café has become widely popular, and even been associated with hashtags like #everyonesmileshere. The couple has been successful in creating a welcoming space where people who normally wouldn’t come to this neighborhood can interact and come together as a community. And they hope to inspire other small business owners to do the same.
“Everybody wants to open a business on Liberty Street. We want to be as far away from Liberty Street as possible, and encourage other people. It’s a big huge beautiful city, grab a corner!” said Collins.
Collins and Lang, parents of a nine-, seven-, and one-year-old while working other jobs, admit that it’s hard work. But they’re still brimming with new ideas, planning to host a sit-down dinner in December, and potentially some live music events. One idea already in place is their “Star Program,” where customers can donate a monetary amount that can later be used to ensure everyone who comes in can get food or a cup of coffee, and that everyone is treated equally.
“We’ll always feed everybody … that’s important to us,” said Collins. “If you’re looking for a feel-good type of place, it’s worth stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new.”
197 South St, Newburgh