Small Business Tour: Dreamers Coffee House
Running a business

Small Business Tour: Dreamers Coffee House

How did you come up with the name Dreamers?

It was really just us hanging out, throwing names out there, but Dreamers really stood out to us. We wanted to have a space where people can come in and plan out their day or their week or even their year, and dream with us.

This is a bit of a small dream for us. To start, we felt like we were the dreamers, and as we grew, we just wanted a space for us to collectively be dreamers together.

Daniel Lam and Sandy Truong

Had you been thinking about starting a business for a while or was it just the perfect location and the perfect opportunity?

A little bit of that. We love the neighborhood and just wanted space for the neighborhood. It really came from the heart— seeing how the area was changing, and from working with seniors in the neighborhood for like seven or eight years. They would feel excluded from a lot of shops in the area. They just didn't know how to get in. They didn't know whether or not it'd be open to them. They don’t speak much English and a lot of times storefronts don’t have Chinese or Asian staff. So that's where our heart was—to allow them to feel included. Since we’ve been here, we are constantly in and out of the shop, interacting with the streets and with the residents.

What was it like being a new business in a neighborhood like Chinatown where there are so many legacy, multigenerational businesses?

The businesses have been very supportive. New York has a certain reputation about being hard or being mean.But actually, it’s a very close-knit community. It was very easy for us to approach other businesses and just say, “Hey, we're a small, small coffee shop. We need some help. We don’t know how to do this. Where do you find plastic cups? We're out of plastic cups.” A lot of shops around here were very open, very quick to help us. Actually another restaurant in the neighborhood, Golden Diner, opened a year before us but had quite a lot of traction. And so whenever a line queued up, they would send all their customers here to wait. So it’s really great.

We try hard to source everything South of Houston, which is all within this area. We really want to empower the neighborhood as best we can. All the ingredients that we use for our syrup mostly come from small markets and groceries in the neighborhood. When we first started, we realized we had actually not left the block for like two or three months, because everything was here—all the supermarkets and everything we needed. We were just running between work and home—we live on the block as well—and there wasn’t really a reason to cross the street. 

What are some of the things that surprised you in your first year?

The coffee shop business is a $5 business. People can’t drink, like, four coffees a day, so we’re transitioning now to be more cafe-forward—offering more food, wine, beer, and to lean a bit more into what the neighborhood wants and allowing them the space and opportunity to hang longer. A lot of the residents in the area say, “Hey, we really like you, we want to support you, but there’s only so much coffee I can drink in a day, right?” 

Otherwise it’s about learning to adapt. That’s been very big, especially opening during COVID. Things are constantly changing. It’s a very fast city. 

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We really found family here.

What are three words you would use to describe Chinatown?

Busy. Hustle. Energy.

If we opened a location in the West Village or somewhere like that, we would not be open seven days, but there's a certain level of energy that Chinatown has, that makes us want to be open every day here.

What would you want people to know about Chinatown?

There's a lot of nuances in the neighborhood. It’s not just dumplings—although there are a lot of great dumplings and great noodle soups. There are a lot of small businesses that have been here for a long time, and also young businesses like ourselves. Come by and check it out.

It’s clear that you’ve had a real impact on the community around you. Tell us a bit more about how you’ve inspired or helped others?

Running a coffee shop is hard. You know, we're not fishing up caviar exactly. We do have baristas coming here, looking for a job, with aspirations of having their own cafe one day. I think working here at a smaller shop, it’s a little dose of reality for them that it's not just sipping coffee and hanging out. But those that do hang around, they do often go down that path.

What’s your favorite thing about running a business? What do you love about it?

It's an ongoing joke that we started the shop just to make friends. Sandy’s birthday is coming up and the invite list is massive. We really found family here. When people move to the neighborhood, we're often first to see them, they’re excited to sign their lease and get the keys. We've seen a lot of neighborhood residents move out, too, and on their way out, they stop by and say their goodbyes and keep in touch. We almost feel like doormen of the neighborhood or the concierge of the neighborhood, so that has been very nice.

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