Harlem’s new cafe offers tasty beers to weary travelers

HARLEM, NY – The latest addition to Harlem’s coffee scene takes its name from the role it hopes to play in customers’ lives: a nourishing stopover, offering a moment of respite from the hard work of the day.

“Being a resident is being someone who is on a journey, and you take a break from your journey,” said Madison Ritter, co-owner of Sojourner Coffee with her partner, James Miller.

The couple will open the doors of their new boutique on West 116th Street between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Frederick Douglass boulevards on Friday after a successful pre-opening earlier this month.

Its roots go back to Denver, where Miller and Ritter met while attending acting school. Looking for a change of scenery, they moved to New York in early 2015 and now live in Harlem a few blocks from their boutique.

Madison Ritter and James Miller, co-owners of Sojourner Coffee. (Courtesy of James Miller)

While Ritter works in the theater department at CUNY’s Hunter College, Miller has spent the past seven years immersing himself in the city’s coffee world, with previous gigs at Joe Coffee, Little Collins and Harlem’s Plowshares.

After realizing he “didn’t want to work at someone else’s store,” Miller began brainstorming with Ritter early last year about opening his own business. Then, last May, he had a biking accident and broke his collarbone in half, sidelining him for months and forcing him to seriously think about his future in the industry.

As they recovered at home, the couple began to draw up a business plan and survey the empty spaces, eventually stumbling upon the 116th Street storefront which was vacated in 2020 by Shuteye Coffee – a favorite of the neighborhood where Miller and Ritter had themselves been devoted customers.

An x-ray of Miller’s broken collarbone, which prompted the couple to open their own shop. (Courtesy of James Miller)

They took over the space in December and spent the following months sprucing it up, including stripping paint to reveal its vintage tin ceiling. After facing supply chain delays, their espresso machine finally arrived this week, allowing full opening on Friday.

Starting with coffee drinks and pastries, the couple aim to come up with a green chili breakfast burrito, inspired by their Colorado roots. Miller will take care of the cafe while Ritter, who oversees the business side, plans to quit his Hunter job at the end of this semester and join the shop full-time – after learning the ropes on the espresso machine .

While many of Harlem’s next-generation cafes get their beans from a single source, Sojourner will pride itself on serving a wide range of coffees — while keeping things affordable, its owners say.

“We’re looking to bring a broader expression of coffee — a deeper dive into coffee without getting too much into the weeds,” Ritter said. “A celebration of coffee with him [still] To be accessible.”

Sojourner Coffee will be open from Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.