For the past seven months, a new café in North Riverdale has been brewing, set to finally open its doors before the last of the cherry blossoms bloom. And come Saturday, Sheza Coffee House visitors will feel as if they’ve tumbled into a scene that is part blooming botanical garden and part fashion runway show. And most certainly, forever spring.
Owner Sheza Waseem, 27, decided to check out from the high fashion world — she worked in corporate marketing for brands like Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin — to start her own business. But her time spent amongst some of the world’s top designers can be felt in the café’s essence. Its walls are tastefully sprinkled with floral mosaic patterns, colorful flowers dripping from mugs, and what is arguably the café’s centerpiece — 10,000 faux flower stems, hand-laid by Elegantize Productions, that carpet the entire ceiling.
“I wanted my shop to reflect me,” Waseem said. “When people walk in, they could see this is stylish.”
Custom-made green and deep purple velvet cushions pepper the seating area, and customers can even gaze upon a spray-painted mural of Waseem, her older sister, and the family’s two Bengal cats, Mao and Bao.
Like many New Yorkers, Waseem was furloughed at the start of the pandemic. She found a part-time job in luxury fashion, but also felt the need to branch out.
“I wanted to do something that I love,” Waseem said. “And coffee is a love language to me.”
As a recent graduate from LIM College, a fashion business school in Manhattan, it was only natural when Waseem presented her father, Yusuf, with a 20-page business plan for the coffee house — he became the investor.
“She (comes) with a proposal about 20 pages about the coffee shop,” he said. “That’s my daughter.”
Then last July, Sheza Waseem found a vacant storefront on Riverdale Avenue. The Waseems signed the lease a few months later. The family had considered other nearby spots, but finally settled on the Riverdale Avenue location because of its proximity to the College of Mount Saint Vincent, as well as local high schools. With operating hours stretching into the later evening, the café hopes to attract college students, as well as people looking for a late night hang-out spot.
Yusuf Waseem’s New Rochelle-based wholesale bakery company will supply much of the pastries. The rest of the menu is partly inspired by Parisian and Asian influences, and of course, the Waseem family’s own recipes.
“Back home, we whip coffee with our hands,” Sheza Waseem said. “It was a tradition.”
The specialty whipped coffee — Sheza Waseem describes as a Pakistani version of a latte — is distinct in the way its topped, with a thick, spiced hand-whipped foam. The drink has long been a well-loved treat in the family, and Sheza Waseem knew she’d bring this family tradition to the public.
Sheza Waseem believes coffee connoisseurs and espresso experimenters alike will experience “love at first sip” with any one of their drinks.
What grounds her menu is its strong foundation in family traditions, as well as a secret roast blend, which will remain a family secret, she said. It’s what she calls the “Sheza Blend,” and while its origins come from South and Central America, the rest is a mystery. But customers can rest assured knowing Sheza Waseem herself goes for organic, medium roasts with “sweet, high notes you could smell.”
“They have to taste to find out if they can get it,” said Sheza Waseem. To which her father Yusuf added, “They will be guessing all their life.”
Also offered on the menu is desi chai, made with boiled loose leaf tea, milk and topped with a cinnamon stick. Customers will have a selection of baked treats to munch on including bagels, tulip muffins, donuts, cake bites and brownies.
Always and ever the fashionista, Sheza Waseem will be seen at the café, perhaps sporting red-heeled bottoms that her former employer’s shoes are known for. It’s just one mark the fashion industry has left on her. Sheza Waseem also pointed to how working in luxury fashion fine-tuned her customer service skills, teaching her to be reliable and “treating whoever walks in the door with kindness, no matter who they are.”
Most of the city’s Pakistani restaurants can be found in Manhattan and the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, where many of New York City’s South Asian population resides.
There’s only a handful in the Bronx. But in general, more small businesses are starting to pepper the landscape as the city regains some footing.
Lisa Sorin, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, said she’s optimistic about storefronts booming and recovering in the Bronx. “There’s so many of those that have come out of the woodwork,” Sorin said. “We have a long way to go. But, we’re moving quickly.”
Today, the Bronx Chamber of Commerce has recorded more than 70 businesses owned by people of color and almost 60 woman-owned businesses in the Bronx.
The Waseems don’t plan on staying in one place either. There’s already plans to franchise Sheza Coffee House and open locations in midtown Manhattan and White Plains.
“If you go upstate, they don’t really have aesthetically pleasing cafés like this,” Sheza Waseem said. “I want everyone to walk in the door and feel cozy and at home. We’re welcoming people from our home to their home.”
Sheza Coffee House is located at 6050 Riverdale Ave. Business hours will be Mondays to Thursdays from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Reach Sarah Belle Lin at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes