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Cafe Peanut: A Charming Coffee Shop in Jersey City

by Chris Goodlof
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Slowing down is important, we could all benefit from pumping the breaks a bit and taking a moment to enjoy the simple things: a cup of coffee and a sandwich in the absence of the hustle of everyday life. That’s precisely why Café Peanut exists. Read on to learn about this charming cafe in Jersey City located at 586 Newark Avenue.

cafe peanut jersey city

{Photo credit: @cafe.peanut}

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The Story

Located in the beating heart of Journal Square, Café Peanut harkens back to a time before coffee as fuel, before grab-and-go. Ilir Mani, 43, and his wife/business partner Dorota, 41, set out to establish a neighborhood coffee shop reminiscent of the coffee shops of Europe, where they came from.

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Ilir, an Italian Macedonian immigrant, and his wife, a Polish immigrant, both graduated from the New York School of Interior Design. After their graduation and the birth of their first child, Ilir and Dorota noticed a lack of pre-schools in Downtown Jersey City where they lived, so they started their own. That was it, they were bit by the business bug, and what came next was Café Peanut. 

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“When I came here,” said Ilir, “I always wanted something, something new.” Unlike many business owners, Ilir and Dorota are creatives, interior designers to be specific – they’re always open to inspiration. Back in Europe, Ilir spent a great deal of time in coffee shops. But while he and Dorota love living in Journal Square, they found it sorely devoid of a true coffee shop. And much like they did with their pre-school, the Mani’s sought to fill that coffee shop void. “Something needs to be here,” said Ilir, “something for them.”

cafe peanut jersey city

{Photo credit: @cafe.peanut}

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There was coffee in the area, but not in the way that Ilir and Dorota remembered it from Europe. What was missing was a coffee shop you could spend some quality time in, not just grab a coffee and get back on your way.

Read More: Carolyn’s Soul Food: Home-Style Cooking in Jersey City

“After a long day of work,” said Ilir, “you’re so stressed that you want a place to come and grab a coffee and just relax, and enjoy the end of the day. That was something that we wanted to bring to this area”

While Ilir and Dorota got to work planning all aspects of the café from the coffee roasters to interior design, which they both know quite well, there was still one thing missing: the name.

“One day we [Ilir and Dorota] went home,” said Ilir, “and our dog [Peanut] was hiding. It was very unusual for her. She was always waiting for us. She was behind the sofa and she was chewing the coffee beans that we were trying.

“My wife and I, we both looked at each other like, ‘This is funny, why don’t we just call it Café Peanut?’”

The Menu

cafe peanut jersey city

{Photo credit: @cafe.peanut}

 “I like supporting local artists,” said Ilir, “we like to support the local roasters. The pastries, we tried to get them as fresh as we can from our local bakeries and all that. All our syrups are house-made, we do it in the house. Back home, that’s what we did.”

These syrups are used in making some of the house specialties like the Rosewater and Lavender Lattes. Ilir and Dorota knew that to have the coffee shop be authentic to the shops back in Europe, everything needed to be fresh, no shortcuts.

“It was all about starting from scratch,” said Ilir, “and the whole menu is designed by our grandma. We do everything fresh and organic. I don’t prep anything before, everything is done on the spot no matter how busy it is or how much limited time you have, I don’t change the menu.”

cafe peanut jersey city

{Photo credit: @cafe.peanut}

The quality of the menu was paramount – quality, fresh ingredients cost more, but you can’t fake the quality. Dorota and Ilir tested every sandwich and menu item themselves before Café Peanut opened.

“We don’t mind paying something extra,” said Ilir, “we like our quality to be the best.” But the cost for them doesn’t translate to inflated costs for the customer.

“We try to accommodate everybody,” said Ilir. “We put special sandwiches every day, we have a lunch special and all that just so everybody feels comfortable and they could afford it. At the same time, they get something fresh and organic.”

See More: City Diner: A Staple in Jersey City

Ilir adores Journal Square. In every way he can, he supports his community. Whether it be artists, bakeries, or coffee roasters, Ilir wants to give back.

“The community here,” said Ilir, “I’m so proud to be in, and I know those guys deserve better than having a Dunkin Donuts or McDonald’s. I know they deserve a warm cup of coffee that actually is a real cup of coffee.” 

Adjusting To COVID-19

cafe peanut jersey city

{Photo credit: @cafe.peanut}

COVID-19 wasn’t easy on Ilir and Dorota’s business, but they pressed on, determined to keep Café Peanut up and running – and they continue to do just that.

“We never stopped,” said Ilir, “even though there were days that really didn’t make money. I literally came here for like $30 a day, but I never stopped.

“I kept my shop open as much as I could, we follow all the CDC guidelines. I make sure my customers are safe and secure.”

Not only did Ilir and Dorota manage to keep Café Peanut afloat during hard times, but they also took it upon themselves to give back. They donated to the local Fire and Police Departments, as well as worked with the Hunger Project, donating literally hundreds of meals to the homeless – Ilir even delivers the meals himself. 

“It’s not about money, said Ilir, “it’s about teamwork and supporting each other. I’m blessed and looking forward to a new 2021.”


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