Michelle Williams.

"i'm next door at ludlow coffee, take your time."

 

I hit enter in my conversation with Michelle.

I shake my head at my computer screen, puzzling over why iMessage on Mac insists on beginning with a lowercase letter. I’m not expecting a response, she’s probably on the downtown 6 train from her house on the Upper East Side.

I slide the message window left with a three finger swipe to open Spotify, intending to switch the music from my ‘current vibes’ playlist. But just before I hit shuffle,  I hear “Friends” by Francis and The Lights playing softly from the coffee shop’s speakers.

Better. I pull my headphones out with a smile.

I hear the large wooden door creak open and feel the brief flood of heat from Ludlow Street. A twenty-something couple enters together, hands intertwined with the soft glow of New York summer love.

“I’ll take a cappuccino, what do you want?”

Removing his Ray-Bans, he turns to her with a smile.

I can’t help but smile too as I blindly reach for my plastic cup of cold brew and return to my computer screen, allowing the romantic exchange to trigger one of my first memories of Michelle.

It was early September 2015, one of the first cooler end-of-summer days. I wore a scarf for the first time in months and made my way toward Chelsea Market for brunch.

A few days prior, my summer fling was unexpectedly pulled out from under me. Still in the “pretending I’m absolutely okay” phase, I forced a smile and entered Giovanni Rana.

Before this meal, Michelle and I had only met once before. Yet, I felt unusually comfortable spilling every detail of my relationship woes to her, instantly accepting her advice as the big sister I’d never had.

“You’re 22,” I remember her smile between bites of charcuterie. “You have so much going for you, and you deserve a guy who gets that.”

She pushed her sun-kissed hair behind one ear and I took note of her wedding ring. I thanked her for listening and complimented her black ripped jeans as she rose to stand on a chair above me to shoot a few more photos.

“Thanks!” She said, bringing her face from behind her camera’s viewfinder. “I ripped them myself.”

Then and there, my desire to emulate her coolness was born.

As the dessert course arrived, she reached for a chocolate ravioli and explained her nearly lifelong relationship with this city.

She’s a born and raised New Yorker, having only left for undergrad in Massachusetts. She then returned to earn her Master's at NYU, graduating in 2009 with a degree in digital design. She settled in the UES with her husband, and the rest was history.

And though she's been in this city for most of her life, she spoke with such assurance that it's never lost its magic. 

"This city is a constant journey," she said. " It's a constant treasure hunt. There's always something to encounter that's new and exciting. New York is my everything."

After graduation, Michelle worked full-time as a motion graphics producer for various shows at both NBC and ABC. Momentarily, she took her talents to a startup in the city, but after a short year that company folded, bringing her to a career crossroads.

And after a little motivation from her husband, her food and lifestyle website Coffee & Champagne became her full-time job, and she never looked back.

"It's the cycle of every New Yorker," she said. "Coffee in the morning, champagne at night."

 

Hear the full story of where the name came from here:

“Be there soon! On 6th and 2nd,”

Her iMessage dings, bringing me back to the coffee shop. Lifting the straw to my mouth, I suddenly realize I’m sipping nothing but ice.

I close my laptop and hop down from the tall marble stool. My brown leather sandals connect with the dark wooden floor as I lean down for my backpack.

“Can we take these seats?”

I look up to the faces of that twenty-something couple, one of their hands now holding coffee but the other still holding each other.

I nod with a smile and head back into the world.

I stand outside for a moment waiting for Michelle, my face to the warmth of Manhattan sun.

With closed eyes I smell the cigarette smoke of passers-by. I hear others calling the parents they’ve neglected for the past week, or sprinting across E. Houston Street just moments ahead of a honking taxi.I push my bag's strap up onto my left shoulder and enter Sweet Chick. I’ve already noted that both window seats contain hungry patrons, but that the older woman who’s dining alone at the far right table has nearly finished her shrimp and grits.

“I’ll sit here until she’s finished,” I explain to the host, gesturing toward a tall table near the bar.

With a nod of understanding, he places two glasses down and hands me a menu. I smile softly, pondering his assumption that I am not dining alone.

Long before my part-time gig photographing my food, my independent spirit drove me to many solitary meals. And as a full-time food blogger, Michelle likely dines solo even more than I do.

Just as my thought of her flees from mind, I feel her ring-covered hand on my shoulder.

“Hi, you’re so beautiful!” she says as she hugs me.

Her wonderful greeting reminds how long it’s been since we’ve hung out one-on-one.Immediately, she pulls her phone from her black leather backpack and wraps her arm around me for a Snapchat selfie. I laugh with uncontrolled candor.

The Instagram community has gifted me endless opportunity, but more importantly it's gifted me a chance to meet people like Michelle. We are genuine friends. I continue smiling as replay a few of my favorite moments with her, remembering how I've witnessed her growth to nearly 100,000 followers.

 

Hear Michelle talk with me about Insta-fame, being recognized in public and her most

memorable moments (including one of our rooftop cocktail hour with Spike Lee):

"Y'all food bloggers?"

Collecting our menus and water glasses, our waiter suddenly understands why we’ve waited for the perfectly lit window seat. Michelle and I look down at our cameras on the marble table, smiling as we transition to our table.

"So why Sweet Chick? What's so special?"

I ask as Michelle’s accessorized hands pour water into glasses for us. My full-time job unrelates to my food photography and writing, but I’m off this week, allowing me to taste what around-the-clock food blogging would feel like—to taste what it’s like to be Michelle.

She writes about food 24/7, eating through upwards of 20 restaurants a week. So understandably, I question her connections to certain eateries with genuine curiosity.

She explains that although she "loosely" eats at numerous restaurants in even a single day, when she's writing a piece for her website she makes sure she to tell that restaurant's story in it's entirely. From dish quality, to atmosphere, to service, she strives for the most authentic experience. 

And she says Sweet Chick just hit it out of the park.

“Well…” she starts her response with a smile. “I’ve actually only been here once before, but I just can’t get it out of my head. It's homey, but it's hip. And the food is incredible.”

"What's the verdict?"

He assumes because we’ve been more or less hanging out for the past 15 minutes, that we’ve absolutely decided what we want. When in reality, we’re two girls who haven’t seen each other in weeks and haven’t looked at the menu once.

But sometimes the best answers come from game-time decisions, so I defer to Michelle to order for us, requesting only my signature side of bacon.

“Fried chicken and waffle sandwich, black bean cake and scramble, biscuits with jam, and bacon, the maple glazed,” the order spills out with confidence. “Do you think that’s enough food?”

The waiter, looking down at the two small girls in front of him, doesn’t hide his laugh.

“I think that’s just enough."

"It's still a salad, even if the dressing is syrup."

Michelle laughs as she grabs the white paper napkin from her lap, crinkling it just before tossing it onto our nearly empty plates.

We laugh through a few moments of blissful timelessness, hitting snooze one more time before returning to our day’s remaining priorities.

Finishing my messy signature, I lift the blue pen from my check and hand it over to Michelle. Knowing I have a few more stops on my upcoming agenda, I rise and head to the bathroom. I take in the rustic decor one last time as I reach for the worn wooden door’s cold metal knob.

On my return, I see Michelle through the window of our now clean table. She’s already on the sidewalk, taking a call.

“Yes, that sounds amazing,” She says into the marble cased iPhone in her hand. “I can’t wait to read what you come up with!”

She hangs up with a smile and explains that the opposite voice on that call as a writer she recently met who’s interested in contributing to Coffee and Champagne.

I’m once more taken back to our first meeting at Giovanni Rana, smiling as I remember her hopeful end-game for all of this.

“I want my site to be a place of collaboration and contribution,” she said with such genuine sincerity. “I want it to be something people want to write for.”

Realizing we’re each traveling uptown, we head north on Ludlow together. Pulling her backpack onto her shoulders, Michelle looks at me through sunglasses.

“So,” she flashes an appropriate smile.  “Should we get coffee?”


To learn more about Michelle, check out her website.

And be sure to follow her adventures @coffeeandchampagne on Instagram.