There is an oasis in the Bronx that you may or may not have heard about yet. It is bright, welcoming, and well designed, and I am basically going to spend the entirety of this article singing its praises. Have I mentioned they make an extraordinary cup of coffee?
Before I praise on, let me first give a little context. Those close to me know I have a deep love and respect for small businesses in the Bronx. I think it takes an incredible amount of strength, stamina, grit, and vision to operate a small business amidst the myriad of challenges plaguing most commercial entities in the borough (and New York City, at large). But when I stumble upon a business that provides me with a transcendent, one-of-a-kind experience, my love often evolves to obsession.
So, in short, this article is my public confession that I am officially obsessed with The Miles Coffee Bar in Throggs Neck. Here’s why...
You can tell a lot about a space by how it is designed and what it makes you feel. Though I am not a trained interior designer or architect, it was clear from the moment I walked into The Miles Coffee Bar --- or “The Miles” to use its nickname --- that a lot of time, inspiration and care went into the construction and design of the space.
Working closely with Jenny J. Norris Interiors, Miles’ owner, Mario D’Agostino, has created a balanced atmosphere flooded with natural light, clean lines, and thoughtful furnishings. Visual elements such as a mounted wooden bookshelf showcasing a set of carefully curated books, a tasteful variety of houseplants, and a custom made sign with the business’ name, round out The Miles interior aesthetic.
And soon, The Miles’ customers can look forward to their beautifully built backyard space opening soon, which will feature a large communal table and a stadium-style wooden bench seating area.
The process of actualizing Norris’ and D’Agostino’s vision for the space was hard won. According to D’Agostino, It took their team nine months to renovate the space, which operated for decades as a barbershop until the previous owner's retirement last year.
Yet, with all its earned, intentional beauty, The Miles remains a comfortable, welcoming space where an individual or small group can spend some ample time unwinding. When I visited on a recent weekend, I observed a wide range of customers throughout the day: from individuals running in to grab a quick caffeinated drink and snack on-the-go; to a family eating some of The Mile’s incredible homemade baked goods (more details on those baked goodies below); to two teenagers hanging out and gossiping for an hour while drinking their coffees. According to D’Agostino, it is the exact form and function he hoped for the space. As he shared in a recent interview earlier this month, “We are focused on making everyone have a good experience. We want people to spend the day with us.”
As I have come to learn to be a common trait among many Bronx food businesses, there is a wonderful story about how D’Agostino came to open and operate The Miles.
Seven years ago D’Agostino opened the Muscle Maker Grill, a healthy fast food chain, next door to the space The Miles now occupies. His years of managing Muscle Maker, combined with his over fifteen years experience working in the restaurant industry, influenced D’Agostino to become acutely passionate about the quality and freshness of the food served at The Miles.
Each morning, the knowledge and talented staff at The Miles bake and prepare everything they serve (except for the bread on their sandwiches, which is delivered fresh from a purveyor in Hunts Point). Their food menu is small but varied, and, to the delight of many with dietary restrictions, includes many gluten free and vegan items.
But, as you might expect from The Miles’ full name, the real star of the show is their coffee.
D’Agostino openly admits he came to love coffee later in life. (During our conversation we bonded over a common childhood dynamic, where each of our mother’s “allowed” us to sip from their coffee cups. He thought coffee was bitter and terrible; I learned to love it at an early age.)
However, don’t expect to find any snobbery here. The Miles’ is serving up some of the freshest, smoothest, coffee in the Bronx, without a hint of pretension. Overall, D’Agostino and The Miles staff’s genuine love of coffee and commitment to quality is reflected in every cup they pour, manifesting in an experience chock full of robust flavor and taste.
And though, in addition to coffee, you can also find some of your favorite specialty drinks -- cortados, lattes, mochas, etc. -- D’Agostino acknowledges there is one thing intentionally not included in their drink menu: flavored syrups. The absence of flavored syrups has caused some potential customers to think twice, but D’Agostino stands by his belief that adding syrups would detract from The Miles’ commitment to serving fresh, all natural, ethically-sourced coffee. Still, it pains him a bit to not give every customer the experience they want. “At the end of the day,” he commented, “it is all about customer service.”
As if there wasn’t enough to be excited about already, D’Agostino has his eyes set on the future growth of The Miles. He is currently waiting for approval on a license to serve beer and wine, and when that happens, the business will add additional evening hours so people can join them after their current 8:00 pm closing time.
D’Agostino also hopes to host future events featuring the many talented visual artists, makers and musicians in the borough. He has already met many through managing The Miles’ social media and, on a recent Saturday, invited Joseph W. Gonzalez (a.k.a @theBXBarista) over to serve as a guest barista and showcase his “latte art”.
All of this gets to the heart of the vision D’Agostino hoped to actualize in the first place: to make The Miles an authentic community space where people could not only meet one another, but actually connect with one another (over a great cup of coffee, of course).