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En Route: The Elk

Photograph by Bridget Badore

Photos by Bridget Badore for The Style Line

The Elk

Visit: 128 Charles St. New York, NY 10014

STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – PHOTOS BY BRIDGET BADORE for The Style Line

The Elk is exactly what the West Village

neighborhood needed. A dual coffee-shop and general store, owner Claire Chan’s vision for a neighborhood staple is embodied in the trendy-meets-casually low-key space. After stumbling upon the cafe on social media we were immediately enticed with the many images of The Elk’s decorative interior, colorful (and equally delicious) dishes and inviting ambiance. Known by cool kids alike, the West Village draws a crowd that is curious yet in the know when it comes to local hot spots. Despite this, The Elk’s community is all inclusive – which is just what Claire wanted. “We just wanted to provide a space where people could come hang out, feel comfortable, and be inspired.” She told us. “Watching how it grows and develops is probably the best thing about having the cafe.” After recurring visits, whether for a iced coffee or light bite (read: granola with steamed milk) it became clear that there was more to the story. Having a background in fashion we were interested to see how Claire was able to translate her knowledge and talents into The Elk’s brand. “I [also] really like to support the local, smaller businesses and have forged some really great relationships with vendors along the way.” Read on to learn more about Claire’s story, her mission for The Elk and how she’s inspired by NYC and beyond.

the style line the elk

I was born in San Francisco,

but moved to Vancouver as a baby. So although I carry a US passport, I’m a proud Canadian at heart (eh!) I moved to NYC because, like many, I was drawn to the magnetic energy of the city- and it’s this energy that keeps me here today. In my spare time, I try to take advantage of all the city has to offer. One moment you could be surfing and eating tacos in Rockaway and the next you could be wandering the charming streets of the West Village. I think the diversity of New York is pretty amazing, and I try to soak it all in as much as I can. Although living here, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle, I try to take time for myself and live a balanced life of work and play as much as possible.

What inspired you to include the shopping/lifestyle product aspect and what value do you think this adds to the community?

I wanted to provide our guests with a selection of quality goods that are beautiful in design, but also inspire awareness for the ways in which we live. I chose local vendors that had a parallel way of thinking and who make products with certain ethics and standards.

I also really like to support the local, smaller businesses and have forged some really great relationships with vendors along the way. Our community continues to grow by having these lifestyle items and these relationships with local businesses.

How would you characterize The Elk’s community?

We started out with very minimal expectations. We just wanted to provide a space where people could come hang out, feel comfortable, and be inspired. As more and more people started to become regulars, relationships and bonds started to form and we love the community of people that come to The Elk! Watching how it grows and develops is probably the best thing about having the cafe.We have such a mixed bag of people who come into the shop – neighbors who have lived in the Village since it was considered “inhabitable”, young creatives, coffee connoisseurs, new mothers, and so on. There isn’t really one thing that characterizes our community and it is evolving all the time.

Talk to us about leadership – How has opening The Elk and running a business informed how you lead?

Opening The Elk has been a whirlwind learning experience, on so many levels. However, leadership is definitely a role that I have had to take in strides. Because I kind of built the business from the ground up, I really had to participate in each and every role in order to fully understand each and lead by example. Every day I learn something new about the needs of the staff and our customers, and now I have started to develop a more balanced view of the business as a whole and my role as a leader within that. I think that will only continue to grow and evolve with time, and through this experience hopefully I can become a better leader as well!

We love your attention to detail – what advice would you have for local business owners when it comes to community-building?

I would say the most important thing is to be present – really get to know your staff, regulars and neighbors as much as possible. After all, they form the backbone to your community. Take feedback and listen to what people want from you. Within reason, try to integrate their needs into your vision. It’s important to remain flexible and adapt your original notions of how/what to offer to what people are actually reacting to.

What is your favorite aspect of NYC style and do you think this plays a role in The Elk’s DNA? 

I love that people in New York are constantly redefining the “norms”. New Yorkers are the trend setters and innovators of style – I think because in many ways, it is the epicenter of creativity. We are always finding new ways of living within an urban setting.
 For The Elk, I think it’s important to keep changing with the times and adapting what we have to offer – for example, offering food/drink options for different tastes and ways of eating… I really enjoy being on bar, behind the machine making drinks. Here, I can ensure the quality of the espresso and drinks we’re serving and also see all the different familiar faces as they walk in. It’s also really fun to nail down my latte art, so that’s always a bonus!

How has pursuing this endeavor redefined or re-inspired your definition of discovery? 

You know how people always tell you that “anything is possible”? It’s true! If you really put your mind to something, the sky is the limit. I see The Elk as the beginning, and it has already opened up new doors and opportunities. I have met so many great people along the way who have helped me realize and redefine what I am capable of. Now I’m kind of addicted to it, and I just want to learn and grow more.

The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration and transit. With this in mind, if what is your “style line”? 

I just try to keep it simple and classic. In this city, you never know where the day will take you. So I always find it best to dress neutrally enough where you feel confident while also still being appropriate for a professional occasion if need be.