Nick Stone is methodically taking over New York with his Melbourne-style cafes. The former Australian Rules Football player and founder of Bluestone Lane has six locations throughout NYC and one in Philadelphia. We met up with Nick at the Upper East Side Bluestone, which is housed next to the historic Church of Heavenly Rest, to talk about Melbourne coffee culture, risk-taking, and finding an oasis in the workday.
Let’s start with the origins of Bluestone Lane.
We launched in July 2013- we’ve got seven stores now. The idea came about when I was in business school in 2010. I moved to New York to follow my dream, follow my girlfriend, now wife.
How did your background influence your vision for the café?
I moved to the states in September 2010. I was a full-time student. I couldn’t believe when I was going to Uni that the coffee experience was going to Starbucks or a local deli, which felt really transactional and had none of the amazing elements that are underappreciated in Melbourne. Coming from investment banking- you work long hours- that escape twice a day to go to your local cafe is just one of the best things about each day.
I broke it down into four key elements which make a great coffee experience. It’s unrelenting focus on premium product, the complementary food and slowing down and giving yourself a moment. It’s about that intangible connection that you develop where your local knows your name, knows your order, knows your face- that’s what I always got in Melbourne. I started looking at the market and thought, I know New York is not like this, why can’t we put it together? New York is the center of advertisement, banking and law- what about all those guys like me in Melbourne? Why can’t I have an escape twice a day to refresh my mind and just to think about something else?
Absolutely. It’s a true escape, and you can provide an oasis which they really value. The millennials, they’re looking for a more balanced life. They’re prioritizing their life in a different way than the previous generation did. They’re looking to exercise, they’re looking to appreciate healthier food and quality artisanal products. They’re not looking for things that are processed and commercially manufactured.
Tell us about this particular café.
We are located on 90th and 5th Ave, which is opposite Central Park, quintessential Upper East Side, on the Museum Mile, next to the Church of Heavenly Rest. It’s a very unique collaboration. [The church] was looking for something new and were interested in progressive and socially conscious coffee shops that were thoughtful about their food. So we introduced them to our menu and what we do from a philanthropic point of view, and that really resonated with them.
Can you talk a little about your relationship with the church, and what it’s like to be working with them?
I think the church is in many respects trying to establish their brand. The church is about faith and connecting with a higher purpose, but it’s still a business. They have customers. I think that they thought that partnering and creating a wonderful space would bring a lot of new people that probably have a preconceived perception of what it is like to go to church.
What about this room, and the architecture here- what was it like walking in here the first time?
We did absolutely everything from scratch- just to see the sandstone, that feels so warm and cozy, which is consistent with our aesthetic. We thought, Why can’t we create exactly what we have back home and bring it here? We thought about the lighting- everything was about featuring the natural infrastructure we have here. The quintessential focus- which is one of the reasons why our stores are appreciated for their design- is we use a lot of blonde timber, and we use a sea foam green tile, which is pretty much synonymous with Bluestone now.
Are any of you guys churchgoers?
The partners of Bluestone are not overly religious at all, but that was never an issue. The church focused on creating a wonderful environment and harmony where everybody is welcome, and it is one of the most beautiful looking churches that you’ve ever seen. Maybe it will break down some of those barriers. It’s a new way of thinking and I applaud them for being this progressive- there’re not too many places on the Upper East Side that would take a risk like this.
Let’s talk about risk-taking- is that a part of the Australian spirit?
I think that Australians are pretty nomadic- you go to pockets of the earth and you wouldn’t think that you’d find an Australian, and there’s an Aussie running the dry cleaner or making your lunch. I think Australians have such a thirst for travel and they’re inquisitive and fearless. We just have such a wonderful fabric in Australia, really open and inviting. So, I think it’s that and the belief that you can give it a go- your best is what matters and you don’t have to be the richest or the most successful. What people appreciate is hard work and commitment and resilience.
What are the benefits of being an Australian abroad?
The Australians that you’ll meet in New York are some of the best people you’ll ever meet, because just being smart, just being rich, doesn’t really matter that much in New York. You need to have a mix of everything. The Aussies here are tough. Australians look after each other and that has been the reason why I called Bluestone Lane the Collective Cafe in the West Village. We had an Australian builder, an Australian designer, an Australian management team; we’re using Melbourne roasted coffee. We couldn’t be alive unless all these people helped us and I’m very proud of all the Australians that give it a go here- it’s made me even more passionate and proud of where I come from.
New York is very willing to listen to you and support your story and say, ‘Hey why don’t you meet a mate of mine,’ or, ‘This person is opening a restaurant’, or, ‘We play tennis at this club, why don’t you come? Why not?’ It’s the coolest city in the world. It’s probably one of the hardest cities to live in, but god it’s exciting and it’s pretty addictive.
What does New York City mean to you?
New York was my dream. When I was about 14, I told my parents I want to work in New York, and a lot of it was because of my uncle. He worked overseas, and he was the cool uncle. He was a banker and a real entrepreneur and I always thought, I want that career where I can live in different places and meet different people.