All About Café Esmé, French-Style Eatery in Jersey City

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Jersey City’s own little slice of Paris, Café Esmé, comes via Romania. The locale’s owner, Daniela Sarbu, 38, was born and raised in Romania and fell in love with the French-style cafes that had become popular there. Read on to learn more about Cafe Esme located at 485 Marin Boulevard.

The Story

Cafe Esme

{Photo credit: @cafe.esme}

Sarbu came to the United States in her 20s when she worked in fashion, and it was then that she opened her first business. But what she always wanted was to open a café as they had back home. The trouble was, the cafés she saw all looked and felt the same – and they were all very different from the warm environment of the cafés in Europe.

“I’m not saying that industrial look is not nice,” said Sarbu, “I’m just saying that I would’ve liked to see a little more chic European flair like you’re in the United States but you take a trip to Paris for half an hour while you drink a coffee.”

But, why a French café? After all, Sarbu grew up in Romania. 

“In Bucharest,” said Sarbu, “which is our capital, we have this huge Parisian infusion. We were called ‘The Little Paris’ in the Communist bloc times. Everything was very Parisian-chic. It was beautiful.

cafe esme jersey city

{Photo credit: @cafe.esme}

And so, owning a French café was always at the back of Sarbu’s mind, but she lacked a location until one fateful day.

“My husband and I,” said Sarbu, “we came out from a movie and we were walking and then I saw this little space, 485 Marin, was just built. And it was just, how should I say, a concrete box.

Read More: A Guide to the Coffee Shops of Hoboken

“We kept on looking through the windows, and little by little we got the space. And we could really see it. It’s very cozy”

Wanting to make the café as much like its European counterparts as possible, Sarbu made the decision to have live outdoor jazz on weekends in the summer months. Customers can while away the summer weekends enjoying a cup of coffee under an umbrella while taking in some eclectic jazz.

The Menu

Cafe Esme

{Photo credit: @cafe.esme}

When Sarbu finally made her move and leased the space at 485 Marin, she then went about trying the coffee from different providers. Sarbu tried the coffee at various renowned Manhattan coffee shops and learned as much as she could about roasting. 

Sarbu came across Kobrick, a New York-based coffee company with a location in Jersey City. When Sarbu got to know them and their roasting process, she knew she had found her supplier. 

But some aren’t coffee drinkers, and Sarbu didn’t want to leave those people out in the cold. For her tea selection, she went with Rishi, a renowned supplier of fine organic teas. But even more than that, Sarbu wanted to offer something special: juices.

Cafe Esme

{Photo credit: @cafe.esme}

“There’s not a lot of cafes in Jersey City that can make fresh-squeezed juices on the spot and have coffee options too,” said Sarbu. 

Save for the doughnuts, cheese pockets, and fruit pockets, everything at Café Esmé is made in-house – a feat Sarbu is quite proud of, and rightfully so.

See More: A Guide to The Coffee Shops of Jersey City

“Nothing is pre-made,” said Sarbu. “We’re not like some of those cafes that the sandwich is there and they warm it up. We just make it from scratch.” 

Cafe Esme

{Photo credit: @cafe.esme}

While the café itself is French in its style, Sarbu couldn’t help but carry over one element from her youth in Romania: strong coffee.

“In Romania,” said Sarbu, “if you would go to visit someone and they would have not-so-strong coffee, that would be a problem. You would not visit again.”

Community and COVID-19

“We love simple coffee,” said Sarbu, “but we wanted to make it a story. Coffee brings people together. We want them to sit down, we want the community to be around.”

Prior to COVID-19, Café Esmé was a gathering site for all manner of community groups. For a while, both expecting and current mothers had their own groups that met at the café. 

“It was a feeling of community,” said Sarbu, “it was a feeling of all of us being together.”

Cafe Esme

{Photo credit: @cafe.esme}

“If you’re going to work, you’re going to grab your cup of coffee or latte and bring it with you. But if you have the time, you sit down, talk, and meet with your friends.”

But, like all businesses, Café Esmé was left reeling after the pandemic hit. While that hurt the communal atmosphere of Café Esmé, it created a new opportunity to give back.

“It was tough but all the community came together and we made a lot of meals for the hospital and for the front-line workers,” said Sarbu. 

Donations came in as well. The owners of the building that houses Café Esmé, The Carey Group, donated meals. But even more impressive were the customers that would call in and buy meals to be donated.

“We survived because of the community we are in,” said Sarbu, “and hopefully now everything is just going to get better and better.”

Follow Café Esmé on Instagram at @cafe.esme for updates and food inspo.

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Born and raised in Bergen County, Christopher Goodlof fell in love with Hoboken when he took classes at Stevens. During that time, he seemed to be attempting in earnest to eat his way through Hoboken. As a musician in a national touring act, Christopher saw the country many times over, but always returned to the endearing and charming state of New Jersey. Graduating from Rutgers Newark, Christopher found a love for reporting about culture, entertainment, food, and people. In his spare time, Christopher can be found writing, painting, making music, cooking, reading, or playing with his dog, Jango.