Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2013


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Coffee with community

Coffee with community
Photo by Geordie Wood

A lawyer-turned-entrepreneur is building social capital, one espresso at a time

By Jessica Brassard

In the early part of the 20th century, the streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side teemed with pushcarts selling anything from apples to scrap metal. They were easy, accessible places to see a familiar face and get a bit of news. When Jamie Rogers '04 opened Pushcart Coffee, a neighborhood coffee shop on East Broadway, in September 2011, he was honoring that legacy of fellowship and commerce.

“A lot of the things we do are geared toward empowering the community by creating a community environment,” Rogers says.

With a height chart and toys for kids, a crowded community bulletin board and menu items sourced from other local businesses, everything about the coffee shop is designed to bring people together. Active social media and community events such as an after-hours writing group, a Torah study group and donation-based yoga create additional connections.

Across the street is Rogers' newest venture, Cowboy Pizza, where on a recent afternoon he was teaching children from a local after-school program about pizza making. Cowboy Pizza also offers a weekly farm produce pick-up, part of a community-supported agriculture program.

In October, Rogers and co-owner Lisa Fischoff opened a second Pushcart location on 21st Street and Second Avenue, just a few weeks before Hurricane Sandy roared through. With power knocked out across lower Manhattan, the Pushcart team fired up a generator and stayed open, providing food, coffee
and a massive charging station for customers' electronic devices.

“This wonderful group of people came to the rescue of a neighborhood they were new to,” one customer wrote on “Their generosity (and delicious coffee) have made me a dedicated patron.”
Jamie worked with his sister Maggie Rogers '11 to build a commercial baking facility in the basement of a building across from Pushcart; now she supplies all of the baked goods for sale in the shops and is developing a wholesale business.

The Pushcart community has included other Camels, too: Rachel Grossinger '04 is a former director of marketing and events, Sarah Trapido '08 helped open Cowboy Pizza, and Rafael Núñez '10 managed the pizza restaurant for seven months.

“If you want the responsibility, Jamie is willing to give it to you,” Núñez says. “If there's an idea you want to try, he lets you try it. If it becomes too much he's always there to help. But if you can handle it, he lets you do what you need to do.”

At Connecticut College, Rogers honed his community ideals — along with his multitasking skills — as a student leader. He majored in history and American studies, earned a certificate from the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy, edited the College Voice, founded a literary journal and was elected young alumni trustee. He also earned his commercial pilot license and wrote a senior thesis on the social history of flight in America.

In 2005, Rogers enrolled at Cornell University Law School, where he served as executive editor of the Law Review and organized student service trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. After graduating from Cornell, he interned for a nongovernmental organization in Bogota, Columbia, then spent a year with AmeriCorps. In late 2010, he took a job as a law firm associate, but he quickly realized that he wanted a more entrepreneurial setting. When a coffee shop in his neighborhood was about to close its doors, he saw an opportunity — and Pushcart was born.

Two years later, Rogers has plans for more growth. After all, New York is full of people looking to be connected and inspired in new ways.

“The more ways we can empower people to explore their own potential, the better,” he says. “The best manifestation of a pushcart that we have today is that sense of entrepreneurship and community spirit and raw energy. So that's what we do: We have a lot more community to build.”

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