The Coffee Shop in Union Square, located on the bustling corner of 17th St. and Union Square West, is famous for several things: the waitresses are models, it turns into a Brazilian dance club on the weekends, was voted Best Bar for Modelizers in the Village Voice, and New York says it boasts a “high risk of poor service and unpleasant encounters with attitudinal (but often pretty) people” but praised the crayons and puzzle place mats for kids. This noisy, WiFi-less den is famous for something else within the tight-knit community of Silicon Alley: it serves as the de facto meeting place for VCs and founders such as Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson and IA Ventures’ Roger Ehrenberg. “Pitch your startup to First Round Capital here. They’re right across the street,” says the Foursquare tip left by Charlie O’Donnell.
But it seems that after years of fealty, New York’s nerdiest investors are moving on. This morning Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, who checks into Coffee Shop at least twice a week, declared he’d had enough. “First day of #coffeeshopboycott (@ Friend of a Farmer w/ 2 others) [pic]: http://4sq.com/sE6vu3,” he tweeted, inspiring a flurry of queries. In answer to Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, Mr. Wilson explained: “I can put up w/ mediocre food & bad coffee but when they disrespect one of their most loyal customers its time for #coffeeshopboycott.” Mr. Wilson did not respond to an email asking him to elaborate. A few founders voiced their support for the boycott on Twitter.
As it turns out, Charming Robot’s Dan Maccarone said he’s been boycotting Coffee Shop for five years; Steve Schlafman of Lerer Ventures actually quit the Coffee Shop just last week. “Because New York values convenience, people will put up with mediocre breakfast food,” Mr. Schlafman said. “Also, people like being seen there. I was kind of fed up with it.”
He independently decided to start taking meetings at Friend of a Farmer, the only Union Square eatery with a worse name than “Coffee Shop,” a few blocks away on 18th and Irving. The place fits his hippie sensibilities, he said. “Before I was trying to be more stealthy about it,” he said. “It’s all kind of a joke. My only concern is that after everyone starts going to Friend of a Farmer, whether [the restaurant] will even be able to handle it. It kind of sucks that Fred tweeted about it.”
As for Coffee Shop, he says good riddance. “Look, that place is so overplayed,” he said. “It’s just convenient and it’s kind of one of these things that stuck. New York is a place that values innovation and doing different things… I guarantee everyone will be going to Friend of a Farmer in two weeks.”
Betabeat called The Coffee Shop to see if the restaurant was aware it had burned a few super users. Charles Milite, one of the owners, got on the phone right away. The cafe’s not-so-active Twitter account followed in the voyeuristic tradition of power lunch spot Michael’s by tweeting about which bold names were in the house. “British siren Rachel Weisz and Director hubby Darren Aronofsky having lunch at Coffee Shop with adorable son Henry Chance this afternoon,” was the last tweet, in August. But Mr. Milite had never heard of Mr. Wilson or the boycott.
“I wasn’t aware at all,” he said. “I know that we have a lot of these young guy techie types. It’s such a busy place and such a diverse clientele here that no one particular segment would completely hit us in the face. It’s a pretty big place and its pretty active.”
Indeed, there was cacophony in the background when we called around 2:30 p.m. in the waning hours of lunch, and of the 19,095 check-ins and 149 tips on Foursquare, less than a dozen pertain to the restaurant’s critical role in Silicon Alley’s economy.
“We don’t like to hear that we’re giving bad service,” Mr. Milite said. “But I’ll have to look into that and find out. He could have just had a bad experience.”
We read him the tweet, which indicated a string of bad experiences.
“Interesting, okay. Well I don’t know,” he said. He said he would ask the general manager, Renee, who might know more.
In the meantime, Friend of a Farmer has started racking up the check-ins. Will Silicon Alley’s finest be satisfied with the “cozy, country cafe,” or will Friend of a Farmer (3,673 check-ins) fail the founder test?