Step Into Caffino, Astoria's New Coffee Spot

All photos by Robert Tutton
When Sija and Husko Celic opened the doors of their new coffee shop three months ago, they did so with a simple goal in mind: To caffeinate Astorians via a neighborhood-oriented, traditional American coffee house. Caffino (29-18 Crescent Street, Astoria, 917-832-6961) is their first business together, but neither of them is new to the service field. "I've always worked in hair salons, restaurants, and I've done all types of hospitality jobs my whole life," said Sija, who still splits her time between Caffino and her sister's hair salon in the West Village. Husko worked in hotels and even owned owned a cafe in Montenegro before moving to New York eight years ago.

While the shop is small, it's cozy, with colorful walls and a little red dresser set against the exposed bricks. Customers are greeted with warmth and a glad-to-see-ya smile. "What I wanted to do was something where you can come and spend five dollars, but you're going to get a good quality for that five dollars," Sija said. "If it's to have the coffee, or just to take in the ambiance or sit on the bench outside - whatever it is that makes them come in, it's a great thing for us." 

Sija, a people person through and through, is optimistic and eager to establish their role in the community. She sat down with us to talk about coffee, community, and learning to be a business owner.

How did Caffino come about?
We both like coffee, and if we really love a place, we're, like, married to that place. We only go there. I'll drive 20 minutes to get a cup of coffee if I really like the coffee, I've always been that way. For me it's just about wanting what I want, and I don't care how far I have to go to get it. We're coffee people, but not the coffee-snob types -- like I wouldn't be able to tell you anything and everything about coffee and beans. We're not educated in that sense yet, but we do have a passion for coffee.

So a lot of learning as you go then?
Of course, I'm learning each day, and it's super interesting. I mean, I'm not a roaster. If it's one thing me and my husband don't do, it's false advertise. We don't sit there and act like we know everything when we don't. I do want to be able to answer any question someone throws at me.

If it's good, it's good, right?

Yeah! And I like what coffee stands for -- bringing people together and socializing. That's also kind of why it was about coffee for us. We didn't want to go into anything with restaurants. I'm not a chef, he's not a chef.

Do you think as you learn more you'll change how you do things?
It's very possible. There's such a broad spectrum to how things are roasted, certain tastes, certain regions. Coffee is one of the largest commodities in the world. It doesn't matter where you go, people understand coffee. I know it sounds cheesy, but that's what I like. Every culture has a different type of coffee they like to drink, or how they drink it.

Can you tell us more about getting the idea off the ground?
We were kind of just talking about it, but not setting anything in stone. When we would talk hypothetically, I said, "I want to do an American coffee shop, not anything European-based. A traditional coffee shop but with our own style." I happened to be walking in the neighborhood, I saw the store for rent and I got excited.

We hear a lot about the economy bouncing back but it doesn't always seem that way; how did that affect your decisions?
You keep hearing the economy is getting better, and maybe it is. We were willing to make this investment because in life you have to take risks sometimes. We just didn't want to be those people saying should've, would've, could've. So, God willing, or the universe or whoever it is that's out there, with all the hard work that we put in, I think everything will go very nicely. But there is no guarantee. You can be the busiest place for five years and then all of a sudden -- boom -- you're dead and sinking. It definitely can be scary, but that's something I try not to think about.

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