Prior to moving into hospitality, Shweta Khare had two corporate lives—first as an economic consultant in international tax and then as an HR strategy consultant—before leaving it all behind to pursue her two side passions: food and hospitality. Of course, there was one small speed bump in her plan–Shweta opened her first cafe, gertrude, in August 2020 smack bang in the middle of the pandemic! gertrude is located on the Upper West side, offering specialty coffee and a strong in-house baking program with a focus on seasonality and locally sourced produce. Inspired by an international palette, you’ll also find the hard-to-come-by Australian classics.
If you’d like to hear directly from Shweta on her experience opening her business in the middle of 2020, then join us on May 4 for our virtual panel event My Pandemic Side Hustle. Shweta and three other inspiring Aussie women will share their stories of turning their dreams into reality during a pretty crazy year!
Tell us about these businesses and what inspired you to begin?
When I first started working in Melbourne after uni, there was a little cafe near the office called Squisito (I just looked it up and, sadly it’s shut down now!) and they had awesome coffee and really yummy breakfast piadinas. We’d go down there most mornings for a coffee, sometimes a second and often lunch too. The crew there always seemed to be having such a great time and there was a laid back, homely feel to the place. A few years later I moved to London and Ottolenghi was down the road from me. The combination of unique flavours, the design and aesthetic of the space—which was thoughtful and genuine—and then of course, great coffee, food and hospitality felt so fulfilling to me. It took a bit longer for me to get to create something like that for myself (another eight years consulting and grad school in between) but certainly it was always a pie in the sky type of dream for me!
What has been your ‘ah ha’ or ‘I’ve made it in the USA’ moment?
I’m still waiting for this moment! But I do feel immensely grateful most mornings walking to gertrude or when I’m trying out new recipes in our kitchen with customers streaming in and out. The last eight months since we opened have been very surreal.
What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business?
Staying flexible, especially during COVID. So, adjusting our menu, our production and figuring out what our customers want has been challenging, particularly through the pandemic. Staying hopeful—through a tough winter—and trying to figure out where to offer new products and innovate, and where to just bunker down and make it to spring!
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?
Instagram has been a fantastic platform to communicate our concept and brand, and also bring awareness to our little corner of the UWS.
Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?
I’ve had a number of mentors and advisors as I’ve left my corporate life and taken this entrepreneurial path, but a number of people who have been on a similar journey to me have been more than excited to support me on mine. I feel that, for me, people are often so happy to help but sometimes it’s taken a while to find the right people who understand the journey I’ve been on since opening. A number of local business owners in our immediate vicinity have been super helpful, sharing their networks and experience (like the owners of Plant Shed and Dive Bar) despite only being open less than a year. We truly have built a sense of community both with customers and other local businesses, which has been really heartening.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
Do your research! Figure out how you can get as much experience as you can and be brutally honest with yourself about how much you can afford to give at any point in time (financially, as well as emotionally) and then go for it! Also, be humble and be willing to learn from those around you—this felt extremely daunting for me, going from the person who is meant to have all the answers, to the person who is figuring everything as you go along, but who is still meant to have all the answers! Even now I learn so much from my team every day.
Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business?
The name! gertrude is named after Gertrude St in Melbourne. I’m always adjusting our menu to make it more ‘Australian’. We’ve been doing lamingtons most weekends, we had hot cross buns going the last month leading up to Easter (pastry cross, not icing!) and I’m currently thinking of ideas for Christmas in July; figuring out how to give the Americans a taste of an Aussie summer Christmas!
Who are some Aussie or Kiwi ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar?
Hallie Burton reached out to me recently and has been doing some great work to support our local UWS hospitality industry through the pandemic by sharing her awesome photography skills.
What is next for your business?
Finding our steady state. So far we’ve only operated in the pandemic, so we’re trying to figure out what business is going to look like 3-6 months from now, and beyond, as we hopefully get on with post-pandemic life. I’m excited to expand our food menu, which we haven’t been able to do during COVID because of head count restrictions on team members in our tiny space, but we’re putting a lot of thought into that right now.
Fave place for Aussie style coffee in NYC?
Call me biased, but it’s hard to articulate how much joy I get from my morning cortado at gertrude.
Fave place for a cocktail in NYC?
So many favourites, but right now with a toddler and a new business my NYC radius has shrunk to our neighbourhood on the UWS. Our fav spots are The Owl’s Tail and Nobody Told Me, both also have great food! And when a longer evening is manageable, I always love popping to Dante, both the original and the newer one on Hudson St. They’ve also been really innovative during the pandemic; their Father’s Day cocktail set was such a fun way to idea for last year’s COVID Father’s Day.
Fave place for dinner in NYC?
Fave NYC ‘weekend’ activity?
When the weather is nice, cycling along the Hudson up to George Washington Bridge, with breakfast and a picnic mat packed! It is a lovely way to spend a warm weekend morning.
Do you have an offer or promo code you would like to share with AWNY members?
Worst best kept secret…the babychinos are always on the house at gertrude!