Names: Max and Graham Fortgang
Ages: 25 and 27
Current location: New York City
City you were raised in: New York City
Company name and Job Titles: MatchaBar, Founders, CEO – Graham, COO – Max
Please provide any links to projects/websites if applicable: MatchaBarNYC.com
Social Media Handles: @matchabar
Why and how did you decide to open up a restaurant dedicated to matcha? Max and I became fixated on the idea of creating and opening a MatchaBar (the first such concept of it’s kind) in 2014. After getting knee deep in the powdery green ourselves and educating our circle of friends and family in the city we grew up in, we felt a very real calling to spread matcha to our community in NYC at large. We pretty instantly fell in love with the way matcha made us feel, seeing it as a better and more sustainable energy source. We wanted to share it with our city and create a culture of matcha in a city that, at the time, did not have one.
Why Brooklyn for your first shop and how did you know you were ready to open up a second location in Manhattan? We started in Brooklyn because of the amazing diversity and mix of motivated professionals, long-time locals, freelancers (the 1099 economy), artists, young families, and generally open-minded individuals who are interested in exploring new solutions to old problems. Close enough to Manhattan to be explored by the millions that live over the bridge, but far enough away to create an atmosphere befitting of the country’s first MatchaBar.
In answer to the second question—without getting into too much detail—there were operational details that we needed to fully iron out before store number two, but the biggest cue came from our community: the #matchafam. The demand from our customers that lived in the city but were visiting us in brooklyn on weekends/free time was immense.
What’s each of your favorite flavor from your new Bottle Matchas? Graham: Fuji Apple Ginger because it really demonstrates how Max continues to change the matcha space with exploration and innovation. No one was doing what he did with fruit juices and spices before, and this bottle is a testament to that!
Max: Original, because sometimes you just want a matcha! Also the simplest drinks are at times the hardest to create and I worked very hard to come up with an Original we were 110% happy with.
What’s next for your brand and concept? Almost a year ago we launched a bottle product that’s now in over 400 stores in NYC and expanding nationally. We launched this year with WholeFoods in Southern LA, Hawaii, and Arizona, and Nevada. Next up for MatchaBar is our first WEST COAST MatchaBar opening up early 2017! We are very excited to continue to grow our community and meet our new neighbors in Silverlake, Los Angeles!
What’s it like working as brothers? Any advice for keeping a good relationship while working with family? Try to continue to hang outside of the office. You have to continue to remind yourselves why you decided to go down this path in the first place, which is usually because you love hanging together! Obviously identifying and being open about family (sibling, etc) dynamics that may come into play is a good idea. One of the best ways to keep a healthy relationship is to very clearly define the role you both (you all) are going to take. Even if you’re totally equal partners, everyone needs a role to play. What are your strengths? What are your areas of expertise? What areas are you both going to purvey over? What areas are you going to oversee independently? There will always be disagreements, but defining areas of strength allows someone to step up and make the final call with the company’s blessing and confidence. No tyranny.
Could you give one piece of advice to anyone who wants to open their own café or restaurant? Try to work for some people/companies you operationally respect before you try and reinvent the wheel. You may think you know better than people who have been doing it for years and maybe you do have some awesome, innovative ideas, but experience always has a lot to teach. Also, if you’re not ready to have a child, don’t start a business—especially a café or a restaurant. Graham and I joke (not a super funny one) that we have 2 infant children.
What’s your favorite matcha-flavored/infused thing to eat or drink apart from your teas? Graham: Matcha macaroon because they are gluten free!
Max: Matcha Sweet buns we created for the cafés and inspired by the wonderful sweet buns we’ve had in Japan—amazing!
What are your favorite neighborhood spots in your Williamsburg neighborhood? Cafe Mogador! We have many a lunch meeting there! Rough Trade—Classic record store and venue for intimate shows. Brooklyn Bowl—great business with great people.
What are your favorite neighborhood spots in your Chelsea neighborhood? Graham: Gray Dog Cafe, killer gluten-free flatbread!
Max: Westside Highline is a testament to the amazing job the Parks Department/City Planners do in our fair city. Such a cool use of space.
Probably goes without saying, but the quality and amount of art one has access to in the Chelsea area is virtually unmatched anywhere in the world.
If you could pack up and move anywhere in the world to expand your business and open new locations, where would it be and why? After LA? Tokyo! It’s a city we have immense love for and Japan is the motherland of matcha!
Fuck, Marry, Kill: Matcha Tea, Matcha Truffles, Matcha Ice Cream Marry the tea, obvi. Kill the ice cream, it never tastes like matcha. Still need to be introduced to the truffles. Do you have a matcha truffle spot you’ve been holding out on us?
Can you share a matcha recipe with us for the site? We’d LOVE to share our brewing instructions. Too many times we find people making matcha the wrong way and getting discouraged. We always want to help you enjoy it the proper way whether using our matcha or otherwise! [Click to learn how to brew matcha tea!]