By Jessi Hempel

In the large picture window, two kids are seated on leopard print stools at the bar, playing chess and drinking smoothies. A grad student from Columbia University works on a laptop in a comfortable corner, and a teacher from across the street examines the art collection on the wall while waiting for his mocha. Behind the counter a young woman works the register, her brown hair tied back in a pony tail. In a society where suited older men have typically defined the business world, one would assume that she's just another Columbia kid, working the registers part time. But at age 27, Susannah Koteen is challenging that definition at her unique coffee bar called Zanny's.

Five years ago, the corner of 108th and Amsterdam, part of a neighborhood wedged between Manhattan's elite Upper West Side and Harlem, was not a place to walk alone at night. Dealers lurked in the streets, and families double-locked their doors. As crime has decreased city-wide and the city has waged its war on drugs, the neighborhood has gone through a dramatic shift. Chhildren play out on the sidewalks, women feel comfortable walking home at night, and the area is developing a new sense of community. Zanny's is leading the way. With its shiny decor and a sign out front advertising smoothies, it looks like a fixture from downtown that's been displaced, parked momentarily between a bodega and a laudromat. However, inside the faces look familiar, and the coffee tastes good.

The idea for the coffee bar developed while Susannah was renovating a house in Connecticut with three realtors who had an interest in buildings around the area just south of Columbia University. In one of their buildings they envisioned a coffee shop, and when they saw Susannah's work on the house, they suggested she join them in a new business venture. In exchange for a share in the business, Susannah has created Zanny's and is responsible for its operation. While she meets with her partners regularly, she's been given full command over the concept and implementation of the business. "It's a learning experience," Susannah explains when speaking of the past seven months. "We're not making money yet, but we're not far off our goals." The economic timeline they set calls for turning a profit within the next year.

However, Susannah ambitions for Zanny's go far beyond dishing cappuccino's and mocha's. She hopes to make it into a place where local artists can gain exposure, a place where people can come to display their work and purchase art. Currently, her walls are covered with photographs, and she says that as word gets around, people ask to exhibit their work. Zanny's just had it first local filmakers evening, showing a series of amateur clips. The bar has the potential to become a regular gathering place for readings and open mikes. Susannah would like to see several Zanny's throughout the city. She thinks they could be furnished by local artists, who could provide photos of pieces they have to sell for customers to look at as they enjoy their beverages.

Susannah herself is an artist at heart. "I'd love to be a photojournalist at some point," she comments, "to travel and take pictures." Like so many young women of this decade, she's embarked on a variety of projects since graduating from Skidmore. She taught in Ecuador for a year. She completed the house renovations. She's not too concerned about what comes next, nor does she feel limited by what she's doing now. She's made a three year commitment to Zanny's. One has the sense that she will stay until she feels ready to move in a new direction.There's no doubt that when she does, she will succeed in her ambition.

Copyright 1999 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved