Nicholas Morgenstern is the proprietor behind New York’s El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette, GG’s, and Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream. Around this time last year, I spoke with him for The Village Voice, and found in him an extremely hard-working creative, and an innovative thinker. And so when working on an episode about creative collaborations for the podcast Live from Prince Street, Nicholas came right back to mind. The episode drops today, and I couldn’t be happier working with the team there or how the story turned out.
Nicholas collaborates with illustrators, painters, photographers, stylists, jewelers, and those in the fashion world to bring a striking visual aesthetic to his product and space. Along with creating flavors together for Morgenstern’s, he publishes a Morgenstern’s calendar, prints beach towels, and uses his space as a gallery of sorts. And he does so in a way that somehow feels accessible and approachable, too.
What follows is a tiny tidbit of interview that stuck with me but didn’t make it into the episode — one that I think holds true for those who truly love what they do.
Taken June 2017
JACQUELINE: Why’d you make a calendar?
NICK: I love the Pirelli calendars. And I want this to be a part of our on-going narrative, that there’s a Morgenstern’s calendar every year. I just want it. I’m interested in other mediums, I’m interested in how those other mediums can communicate our product, and I have a long, long vision for my brand. I believe that all these other things that we do start to help support the narrative of the long view for what we’re gonna do.
So we’re involved in fashion; we do a lot of work with small fashion brands that I’m very excited about. And over the years those relationships have developed into those fashion brands wanting to make stuff ice cream-related with us. The same thing goes for working with the photographers. For the last couple of years our beach towel is a print all over towel, which means that you can digitally print a photograph onto a beach towel. It’s always been an ice cream cone, and they’re wildly popular. We sell out of these things in two seconds, because who doesn’t want a beach towel with an ice cream cone on it? It’s something that I believe our customer wants. And we make things that they want. Hopefully. That’s kind of the idea.
J: What adjective would you toss onto this aspect of your work?
N: I have never thought about it that way. Umm..
J: Because this is a lot; having a restaurant, let alone three, in New York City. And you say you’re expanding into a larger space at some point in the next year. I mean, that’s plenty to do.
N: Yeah, yeah. But look, I’m an operator of all the businesses, and there’s a lot of management going on. I’m a pastry chef. That requires you to be organized. I’m an organized person.
N: I’ve a team behind me.
N: We do all the organization stuff. If we don’t get to do the creative things, then what’s the point? I should just go be an accountant at a lawyer; I’ll make a whole lot more money and get my weekends and my four weeks of vacation or whatever. I don’t have those things, but what I do have is something that’s incredibly stimulating, which is I get to work with creative people.
J: So stimulating maybe is your adjective.
N: Yes. And it influences what we do with the ice cream. Events that we do, charitable contributions, collaborations with artists, that’s what makes it worth it to do the work. All the other stuff that we’re crunching through, managing the budgets and dealing with crisis of the sprinkler system going off or whatever’s happening. If that’s all you’re doing in this business, which is a thankless business, just, like, throw in the towel. Forget it. To me.