On a sunny May afternoon, rather than buying a drink at a local Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, many customers come to the I Like It Black coffee shop in Harlem. The coffee shop is modern yet cozy, attracting both the work-from-home crowd and those looking for somewhere intimate to catch up with a longtime friend. Adjacent to it is its sister shop, Make My Cake Bakery, which has been serving baked goods in Harlem for more than 30 years.
I Like It Black has its origins in a Harlem apartment, Aliyyah Baylor, the shop’s owner, and her mother baking cakes, cookies and pastries. In 1995, her mother acquired their first storefront. This family business is what Baylor knows best and where her passion lies, and on Juneteenth in 2021, Baylor opened another location of the Make My Cake Bakery, and adjacent to it by popular demand came the I Like It Black coffee shop.
“The coffee shop became a spin-off based on the community wanting a different option for coffee. There are only franchise coffee shops in the area. We thought opening a coffee shop would be a great option,” she says.
Despite businesses closing down around her during the pandemic, Baylor had faith in the brand she’d created with her mother.
“Commitment [is what kept me going]. I knew it would be a good opportunity for us to stick with it even though it was a very daunting time,” she says. “It was a commitment to myself, my legacy and our clients.”
Customers come for high-quality coffee and the shop’s tranquil vibe, which is not as bustling and noisy as a Starbucks might be.
“There is just something that feels like you are a part of the community and neighborhood. I walk in and people recognize other people,” says Kelly Britt, a regular customer. “Anyone can go to a major coffee brand but there is no individuality, it won’t have the same spark like places like this have.”
What makes the coffee shop even more remarkable is that the coffee beans used in each cup come from Latin or Black-owned brands.
“First and foremost, we highlight these businesses. One of the things that came out of the pandemic was people wanting to buy from Black, LGBTQ — or minority-owned businesses,” she says. “But I grew up celebrating and supporting these businesses — that was the norm. It is not the norm in many communities because there is not a lot of representation of business owners who may look like me or are minorities.”
While many customers come from other boroughs and even states to support the Black-owned business, the coffee speaks for itself.
Baylor encourages customers to try it in its purest form — black, hence the name. She thinks it’s the best way for someone to enjoy all its flavors.
I Like It Black also offers specialty drinks. For example, the mochas contain chocolate made by the store itself.
Baylor is looking forward to opening more coffee shops without the worry of the pandemic. She is grateful to have the opportunity to be a business owner and hopes to continue doing so in her hometown of Harlem.
“Harlem has always been home. No matter where I go, I love that my family’s legacy lives here,” she says. “I think that when you are put in a position to be an entrepreneur, and you get to tap into that passion of learning and connecting with your community, it’s something that becomes embedded in your heart.”
Hours of operation: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. / Saturday & Sunday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Business address: 409 W 125th St. New York, New York
Phone number: (929) 532-2253