When walking into the recently-opened Saint Michel Cafe and Bakery, over on Irving Avenue, it can feel like you’re stepping into a modern art gallery. The wall is covered with iconic New York City-themed images, like a large portrait of a young Jean-Michel Basquiat, the cafe’s namesake. Accompanying a wall of tasteful treats are vintage magazines, like a copy of the first cover of Vogue that Naomi Cambell ever graced, paired with biographies on Virgil Abloh to Keith Haring. Behind a nearby glass were a collection of cupcakes, cakes and candy that more resemble art than food, like a cupcake with a miniature, perfectly-sculpted Nike sneaker on top, or another one topped with a small Telfar purse that looked just like the real thing. The first thing I had to ask was if anything on the shelf was actually edible.
Opened last November, Saint Michel is a concept from the mind of Benny Emeri, who also runs a dessert company called EATGOODNYC, which he runs with partner Carolina Wang. As a kid, Emeri says he loved learning about “old school” New York City, it’s fashion and art. But growing up in Queens, he says he didn’t have access to any of the places where he could go to learn more about these things. Emeri says he’s building exactly what he felt he missed in his youth.
“At Saint Michel, you can feel like you’re part of a community and be allowed to express yourself however you’d like,” he told me.
The cafe doubles as a showroom for Emeri’s EATGOODNYC brand, where customers come to pick up their intricate, custom cakes. Beyond that, the cafe sells a full range of espresso drinks, teas, and buys out pastries from Balthazars. It’s also laptop-friendly.
“Often, people will walk in and gravitate towards the Virgil Abloh sneaker [cake] and we chop it up from there,” says Emeri. “I think it’s especially cool when young POCs stop in to check out our space and see that I, a Black man who grew up in New York, is the owner of the cafe.”
Last month, the cafe hosted a children’s book reading themed around Basquiat’s life and work. Wang tells me “we’re creatives that happen to make food – and food is a canvas for art.”
“We built EATGOODNYC from the ground up. We’re not from families of means – just two young entrepreneurs in New York trying to make it work,” she adds.
Something else that’s dear to Wang’s heart are dogs. On the side, she runs an instagram page for a group called the “Irving Square Park Puppers” and has spearheaded efforts to establish a formal dog run at Irving Square park.
The dogs, she says, pay the love back.
“The dog community has really supported Saint Michel’s opening,” Wang says. Aimed at them, the brand also sells what their website calls a “signature pup/dog cakes” that runs for at least $55 and features “a custom topper of your pup on top.”
The brand’s art-forward treats have caught the attention of people beyond just Bushwick. When Beyonce wanted custom cupcakes for her birthday – the team delivered. When the Telfar brand called and wanted a chocolate cake in the shape of the brand’s popular shopping bag, nicknamed the “Bushwick Birkin,” the pair baked that up too.
Saint Michel’s Cafe is located on 462 Irving Avenue and is closed on Tuesdays. You can follow Saint Michel on Instagram here.
Photos of Saint Michel’s Cafe taken by Stefen Pompée.
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