Griot Cafe Is the Definition of Culture and Community in The Heights

Griot Cafe 434 Central Avenue The Heights Jersey City Exterior
Now open: Griot Cafe, 434 Central Avenue, The Heights, Jersey City. Photo by Gillian Blair/Jersey Digs.

Griot (pronounced gree-oh) Cafe, or The Griot as it’s affectionately called by the founders, is more than a new coffee shop on Central Avenue in The Heights. Located at 434 between Congress and South Streets, Griot Cafe is a gathering place, fueled by caffeine and cuisine but foremost by community. Currently in its soft launch phase planning to open in earnest officially in May, Griot is serving beverages along with breakfast and finalizing the rest of the menu which will not disappoint.

Founded by friends who met working in finance, they banded together on this project around a shared love of food and their overlapping cultures. Haitian, Kenyan, Senegalese, and South African tastes mingle, making the menu both Afro-Caribbean and a unique option in the neighborhood. “We thought it would be nice to introduce our culture and food in an elegant environment to the world around here,” said Victor, one of Griot Cafe’s founders. “It’s something new and different everybody can enjoy.”

The interior is indeed elegant and succeeds as a simple, at once airy and cozy, shared space. Rich hardwood floors and a swath of dark blue paint (The color of which was decided upon only after a friendly but heated debate!) below the chair rail line ground the space. The tables and chairs are sturdily modern and gold sconces, as well as gold accessories for coffee accouterments, add some glitz alongside the casual chalkboard menu.

Griot Cafe 434 Central Avenue The Heights Jersey City Interior 3
Interior. Photo by Gillian Blair/Jersey Digs.
Griot Cafe 434 Central Avenue The Heights Jersey City Interior 4
Interior. Photo by Gillian Blair/Jersey Digs.

An architect did consult on the build-out, helping to coordinate the aesthetic, but the details — like the black and white collage mural and world map mirror — feel deeply personal to the founders. Upside down cups and saucers create pendant lights over the register that add a bit of whimsy and the glass surround, marble countertop, and white beadboard front of the bakery counter look clean and classic.

Griot Cafe 434 Central Avenue The Heights Jersey City Interior 2
Bakery counter. Photo by Gillian Blair/Jersey Digs.

The front of the cafe offers a space to step up into and sit on retro green stools along the bar that lines the window with a two-pane view of Central Avenue. Walls are decorated with a rotating display of local artwork for sale and the little lending library is yours to contribute to and take from which echoes the communal ethos and really makes it possible to envision this part of the cafe as a stage for literary events like an evening of spoken word performance — something the founders see for the future.

Griot Cafe 434 Central Avenue The Heights Jersey City Interior 1
Interior. Photo by Gillian Blair/Jersey Digs.

The friendly faces behind Griot Cafe are founders Victor and John, chef Glory, and lead barista Stephanie. When asked about the name, John and Victor excitedly explained that griot is significant to both of them. In Haiti, Victor’s homeland, griot is a delicious and beloved pork dish. John’s heritage is East African where a griot is a storyteller, an oral historian. These definitions coalesce into a new usage for the noun: a place called Griot Cafe where good food and good people come together to create community, sharing space and their stories.

The coffee complements the cuisine that includes Turnos — savory puff pastries filled with beef, chicken, fish, or spinach. Short for turnover and similar to the Jamaican beef patties from the street cart, these Turnos are sure to bring the Caribbean to Central Avenue. A vegan version is also available. Griot Cafe’s chef is perfecting the namesake dish, too — fried pork (griot) sandwiched between plantains and dressed with an avocado spread and spicy slaw.

Griot Cafe is intensely proud of every detail, but probably none more so than the coffee. Serving Chameleon Cold-Brew, the Austin, Texas-based company ethically sources organic beans and air roasts them, delivering a low acid “buzz big as Texas.” Dubbed as “Coffee made for Makers,” Griot Cafe is the first brick and mortar coffee shop to serve the brand. Three different roasts will be available (Dark, Black & Bold; Mexico Chiapas; The Day Breaker) and ready to drink bottled coffee is in the cafe’s cooler if you’re in a real rush. Chameleon Cold-Brew and the Nitro roast are also on tap for both convenience and a cool edge. Look for summertime specialty iced coffees, decaf options, beignets, and samosas coming soon.

Also in the works is a big backyard space that will be an outdoor oasis in the heart of The Heights. Wifi is available and the friendly staff is young and experimental, guaranteeing dynamic coffee concoctions 8-7, seven days a week.


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