When Vanessa Keefe learned that her friend Alison Nelson wanted to open an American-themed bakery in the West Village, she loved the idea so much that she jumped on board as a co-owner.
Even though the former journalist has never run a business, the two successfully opened Doughboy in October of last year. Named after American soldiers that served in World War I, the bakery features a classic American menu, vintage military theme, and masculine interior design.
The streamlined masculine design distinguishes Doughboy from the elegantly feminine bakeries that are common in the West Village. The shop is decorated with rolled-up vintage comic books like a 1969 copy of Enemy Ace. On the cover is a World War I German pilot antihero clutching an Ally pilot by the neck. On the wall hang faded pictures of WWI soldiers in uniform.
"I wanted a place where my father and his friends would feel comfortable visiting," explained co-owner Alison Nelson. Located at the corner of Charles and Hudson streets, the cafe features Mud coffee and baked items made daily from scratch and family recipes.
"Anytime you walk in here, you're going to smell something baking in our oven," bragged Keefe.
But running any successful business in the Village demands more than tasty goods. For this part of town, replete with unique and trendy business, staying competitive means specializing in friendly customer service and innovative products.
Doughboy employees strive to keep an aura of friendliness, welcoming customers with smiles and: "How are you?" In the corner, a man with glasses converses familiarly with one employee as he sips coffee and flips through a thick book."Everybody's story is so different, and they're all fascinating," Keefe said. Celebrities who live in the area sometimes stop by, such as Matthew Modine, who will appear in The Dark Knight Rises this summer.
Success for Keefe and Nelson is simple: they know they're doing something right when products fly off the shelf. They work constantly to create new products without disregarding what customers love. For example, one of Doughboy's new items is cake-in-a-jar, which is just what it sounds like: cake baked and decorated in a jar. To eat it, one simply twists off the lid and digs in.
Other local businesses owners employ the same tactic. "You have to keep excelling and improving your products, because without excellence and uniqueness, you won't survive," said Marco Shalma, the general manager of Vive la Crepe on University Pl.
He recently added a chicken pesto with fresh tomatoes and lettuce to the crepe menu. The $9 price on many of Marco's crepes corresponds to the sophisticated atmosphere, at once elegant and hip. As his cafÃ© opens in the morning, Marco can sometimes be seen rattling off instructions to alert cooks in crisp, white chef coats before customers crowd into the long, narrow restaurant.
Tina Casaceli, owner of Milk and Cookies on 19 Commerce St., is similarly invested in her hole-in-the-wall cookie bakery, nestled beneath brownstone apartments on a tree-lined street. Like Vanessa Keefe, Casaceli markets her products using social media.
But like both Keefe and Shalma, Tina also stays competitive by working long hours and constantly updating her menu with original recipes. "It's all tough, but it's what I know, and I have to pay the bills like everybody else," she said.