Cafe Buunni re-opening during COVID-19

We sit down with co-owner of Buunni Coffee to discuss decisions around reopening their 4 cafes, all located in the city most negatively impacted by COVID.

As part of our ongoing effort to empower independent coffee shops with resources, tips and best practices to adapt during the COVID19 crisis, we are interviewing a series of business owners that are finding ways to safely serve customers and protect baristas. 

Cafe Buunni re-opening during COVID

Cafe Buunni, serving specialty Ethiopian coffee, is centered around celebrating family and community. So when COVID-19 hit New York City, where the 4 Cafe Buunni's are located, it was extremely sad for this team to not do what they loved and serve their community.

We sat down with Sarina Prabasi, co-founder of Buunni Coffee. Sarina totes an experienced coffee resume. Including accomplishments as cafe owner, serving on the Board of Advisors for the Specialty Coffee Association, and published author of "The Coffeehouse Resistance". However, this pandemic has put her entrepreneurial knowledge to the test.




Suddenly, Sarina and her husband/business partner Elias were faced with extremely difficult decisions based not only on what is right for their business, but also what is right as a human being.

All four of Cafe Buunni's shops are located in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx, which are among the communities hit hardest by COVID-19. New York's Governor Cuomo enacted the "New York State on PAUSE" executive order March 22, 2020, effectively shutting down all non-essential businesses. However, by this point, Sarina had already made the decision to close three out of the four Cafe Buunni locations. 

Now more than two months in, Cafe Buunni is slowly reopening. This interview with joe Co-founder Brenden Martin, centers around their decision to reopen Buunni cafes, the safety measures they've implemented, and how they've continued to serve their community even when their doors were closed.


Community Highlights

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 6.57.26 PM

Cafe Buunni fueling frontline workers with their donation program

Sarina owes their success to the communities they've built around the cafes. Housing both customers and staff, the loyalty and support of the neighborhoods has kept the shops going. Here are highlights from this discussion:

  • Implementing a Pay-it-Forward campaign for customers to donate cups of Buunni coffee to  frontline workers across the city - Featured on The TODAY Show
  • Communicate encouraging works to customers whenever - and where ever - possible (even writing messages on their cafe windows)
  • Selling roasted beans and talking with customers about home brewing gives them a little slice of Cafe Buunni at home 

While the pandemic has kept the people apart, the relationships built around Cafe Buunni have rallied everyone together in support of one another.


Operational Highlights

Cafe Buunni is opening up doors one cafe at a time for the safety of customers and staff, as well as understanding that things are changing so rapidly. Sarina mentions several operational changes they've made to the cafes, here are the highlights:

  • Implementing joe Mobile Ordering for a contact free ordering option
  • Limiting hours of operations
  • Converting the front door to a take out window
  • Requiring staff to wear masks throughout the work day
  • Simplifying the menu

Encouraging customers to use joe as the safest form of ordering, Cafe Buunni's first location to reopen is serving about 1/3 of their customers exclusively through joe. 


Advice for Others

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 7.06.44 PMCafe Buunni Co-founders Sarina and Elias 

In the final question, Sarina dives into the future of coffee shops. While every small business owner is struggling, she provides this piece of advice for other coffee shop owners:

"Discover and believe in your "Why". It will get you through good times and bad,  whether you're a new business or established. "

At joe, it is our mission to empower indie coffee, especially in hard times for small businesses. Our joe blog offers additional resources around operating during a pandemic. Together we grow.



To offer the safest, contact-free ordering option for you customers, email us at We can have you accepting mobile orders in as little as 24 hours.


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