The owner of Harlem’s Ponty Bistro will open a new cafe

HARLEM, NY – Elhadji Cisse’s Harlem restaurant empire is about to expand again: the chef-owner of Ponty Bistro and Renaissance Harlem will soon open a new cafe in the neighborhood.

Known as the Harlem Cafe, the store will be on the southeast corner of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard and West 133rd Street, which is more recently home to the First Health Pharmacy. It is expected to open in late June or early July, Cissé told Patch by phone Friday.

Cissé first revealed his plans Thursday night at a Community Board 10 meeting, where he was seeking the support of a committee to secure a license to sell beer and wine at the cafe.

“All my life I’ve dreamed of having a good coffee in Harlem,” Cissé told the board. “We don’t have anywhere you can get good coffee from 145th to 125th [streets].”

Originally from Senegal, Cissé moved to New York when he was 17 and has now lived in Harlem for almost 30 years. An early Ponty Bistro location in Gramercy opened in 2008 and closed a few years later, while the Harlem version has flourished since opening in 2014, followed by French-inspired Renaissance Harlem.

Elhadji Cissé, photographed in front of his restaurant Ponty Bistro. (Courtesy of Ponty Bistro).

Harlem Cafe will be just up the block from Renaissance and five blocks south of Ponty Bistro. Cisse said the cafe will be “upmarket”, focusing on coffee drinks and light fare such as sandwiches and salads.

Still, he said, prices will be affordable for the community — aiming for around $3 for a cup of coffee, $4 for a cappuccino and $10 to $12 for sandwiches.

“Just classic French coffee with a little African twist,” he said.

The approximately 1,000 square foot space will accommodate 10 to 15 people. It will include a traditional sidewalk cafe, but not a roadside enclosure in the age of the pandemic, Cisse said.

The new cafe will also continue Cisse’s service record in the neighborhood, which included handing out hundreds of free meals at Ponty Bistro during the pandemic.

“We always give back and that’s what we plan to do,” he told the board. “I’m here for the neighborhood.”