NISKAYUNA — Coffee won out over hair for Katryn Malen.
The Niskayuna native left home a decade ago for New York City, where she worked in and managed a number of coffeehouses before attending cosmetology school. But she realized she liked making coffee better than styling hair; a desire to be closer to home after five years in the city set her on the path to opening Graham’s Coffee Parlor last month.
She’s come full circle: The bright little space at 3406 State St. was formerly her grandfather’s and uncle’s office, and it’s where she had her first job as a teen, typing up paperwork.
Family members were there again when she converted the space to her coffeeshop, helping her gut the interior, remove the first-floor apartment, hang drywall and fabricate steel handrails.
The shop takes its name from her mother’s side of the family, including the uncle who did a lot of the heaviest renovation work.
As she decorated the space, Malen followed a 1980s aesthetic she took from salon posters with friends and family serving as models for the drawings on the wall. “I made my own illustrations of people I knew,” she said.
Coffee was handed to a paying customer at Graham’s Coffee Parlor for the first time on Aug. 1; the official ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Sept. 17.
There’s a good mix of drinks and light fare on the menu board. So what’s Malen’s favorite coffee? She likes many, and likes them potent.
“I drink four shots of espresso every day. Four shots of espresso over ice,” she said. “I drink a lot of caffeine.”
Most of the coffee she’s serving comes from Hex Coffee Roasters, a North Carolina company that specializes in lighter roasts, a style that has grown in popularity in recent years. The lighter roast doesn’t impart as bold a flavor as a dark roast, but she brews it at proper strength and gets good reviews on it.
Malen said she takes the same approach with flavorings — adding but not overwhelming. Her Ginger Bee Latte, for example, starts with syrup made from fresh ginger, but it still tastes like coffee with a ginger snap, rather than a ginger shot.
“I do all the flavors myself, make all the syrups,” she said. “It’s adding flavor without me taking away from the taste of coffee.”
There are other places to get coffee near the Schenectady-Niskayuna border, where the new shop sits, mostly at chains such as Starbucks or Dunkin. Independent coffee shops seem more common in walkable downtowns such as Schenectady or Scotia, but Malen said she doesn’t think her business will suffer for lack of heavy foot traffic on State Street (front door) or Albany Street (back door).
“I have the parking lot,” she said. “I’m a stop in the shopping trip.”
It’s within a concentrated retail district that people drive to, so there are already many potential customers passing by her driveway, plus the employees of all the shops at Mansion Square and Mohawk Commons.
There are also four gyms nearby with many potential consumers of Graham’s smoothies and juices.
The area isn’t just a shopping zone, it’s a neighborhood, one that Malen knows and appreciates as home, and one that she said seems to appreciate having a new independent retailer on site.
“Overall it’s been very consistent,” she said. “The overwhelming sense is: ‘Finally — the neighborhood just needed something like this.’”