Don't Forget Café Forgot
Behind the lower Manhattan store for emerging designers — yes, the one with the rotating rack — is a tag-teaming duo that has figured out the secret sauce of modern retail, finding new talent, and bringing friends together into one special space.
Photography by Alex Hodor-Lee
Tucked away in the Lower East Side, on the corner of Ludlow and Hester, is a small storefront managing to make retail relevant (and even exciting) again. It might be the rotating rack — a Clueless-style contraption that shoppers can control themselves — that draws passerbys inside the store. Or maybe it’s the hand-picked collection of emerging designers — after all, how many stores are left that marry unique interior design, a distinct point of view, and a keen awareness of up-and-coming talent? (RIP, Opening Ceremony). For the founders behind the boutique, Vita Haas and Lucy Weisner, reviving the glory days of retail is part of their modus operandi.
Since Café Forgot opened its permanent location in 2021, the downtown girlies have made Café Forgot a can’t-miss stop in the LES retail circuit (Sandy Liang, Bode, Susan Alexandra, Desert Vintage are just a few other names in the neighborhood). But Haas and Weisner have found a way to set themselves apart: Café Forgot is a project for friends. The names on the rack, from Olga Basha to Zachariah, are long-time pals of the duo behind the boutique. In other words, Café Forgot is more than just a shop — it's a clubhouse for friends who like to have fun getting dressed. And Haas and Weisner plan to keep it that way.
Below, the pair tells us how Café Forgot began (if it’s not already obvious, it’s not a café) and how they’re keeping retail alive, together.
Megan: How did you two meet?
Vita: Lucy and I went to the same high school and college. I was a grade older than her, but in highschool, I would see Lucy in the hallways and I thought she had really good style. Then she joined the fashion club, which was a club that I started. A few designers we carry were in that club, too. So Café Forgot is very much a fashion club.
Lucy: We went to Reed College in Portland, Oregon. We both studied art history and were roommates. We had collaborated on some art projects and realized that we worked well together. We would talk a lot about stores we liked while growing up in Manhattan. We were really aligned on those things. We knew that we wanted to open a store together one day. Once we both graduated and were not finding that much satisfaction in what we were doing post grad, it just seemed really worth it to give it a try.
Vita: That sums it all up.
Megan: What did your early conversations about retail cover?
Lucy: There were a lot of stores that we both loved in New York. There was kind of a different energy to retail then. It was much easier to own independent boutique type stores in downtown New York. A lot of that has faded away. In the neighborhood we are in currently, in Lower East Side, there’s more of that emerging, which is exciting to see. It’s those smaller stores that keep New York interesting.
Vita: One of the main things we knew was that we really wanted to carry the work of our friends. Lots of people we grew up with were making cool stuff and, from the beginning, we were super aligned on wanting to show the work of Layla Alter (of Alterita jewelry), Marland Backus and Piera Bochner. And then there were some things that have been more of a negotiation, which is cool. Lucy was always like, it needs to be in Manhattan. And I thought it could be in Manhattan or Brooklyn. Now I’m like, no it needs to be in Manhattan.
Lucy: With e-commerce becoming more widespread we wanted to prioritize the in-person retail experience. A lot of the pieces we carry are hand made or one of a kind and so it’s nice to be able to connect with them in person. Also we wanted to give young designers an opportunity to show their work without the pressure of producing huge collections, which is very costly.
Megan: When did that opportunity start to materialize? What were Café Forgot’s beginnings?
Lucy: We launched in 2017 and started with a series of pop ups. For our first shop, we borrowed our friend’s studio—which happened to be a ground floor retail space in the lower east side. After that, we did a series of shops across the city, a few in Brooklyn and Manhattan, one in Portland, Or. We would either rent out a space for the pop-up or collaborate with a store. We worked with Picture Room in Brooklyn heights, Mirth Vintage, and Stand up Comedy in Portland. We learned a lot from doing the pop-ups, figuring out what worked. In 2021 we opened our current permanent location at 29 Ludlow st.
Megan: Where did the name come from?
Vita: It’s a nail polish color. It’s mysterious and weird and just bizarre. And I liked that. But I also feel like we were not’ obsessed with it. But we needed a name — we just didn’t want everyone to be like, is this a coffee shop? Now, we love the name so much.
Megan: And when did you make the leap to doing Cafe Forgot full time?
Lucy: It was at the start of the pandemic that we decided to commit full time. We didn't start with any funding. If we had, we would have been full time from the beginning.
Megan: What were some of the jobs you were working before making the leap?
Vita: I worked retail at Issey Miyake, I worked for a vintage store, and I would assist stylists sometimes. I worked at a coffee shop. This and that, but a lot of retail.
Lucy: I worked at a gallery and I also did wholesale for different brands, and I also worked in retail. I honestly think doing all of those things were super informative for running our own business — especially retail and how to manage a store. I also worked for an interior designer. Most of the work I did was for small businesses, and that was really an education on how to run a small business. So all of those experiences have been really valuable.
Vita: Yeah I totally agree. It was hard working other jobs while building, but at the same time, I don't know if we could have done this without those experiences.
Megan: It’s really apparent that bringing friends into the mix, or community, is a huge part of what makes Cafe Forgot so unique. Do you feel like you’re buying for a particular aesthetic, style or vision, or is community the main priority?
Lucy: We’ve always been a bit more focused on the way things are produced or the types of designers we work with, rather than subscribing to a singular visual idea or aesthetic. Because of the nature of a lot of the designers we work with — a lot of them are also artists making handmade or one-of-a-kind pieces — it comes together in a cohesive or aesthetic way. But that’s not what’s underpinning a lot of the decisions.
Megan: Do your personal styles play a role in your buying process, and how do your personal styles differ from one another’s?
Lucy: I think we have slightly different personal styles, but we gravitate toward similar things. Not everything in Café Forgot is something I’d personally wear, but I have an intense appreciation for it even if I’m not the one wearing it.
Vita: I think that’s helpful for us. It’s really good that we spend a lot of time together working. I think it’s still really important that we do that. We still have 1-2 days of the week that we’re at the shop, and the other’s when we are home together. We don’t have defined roles bc we wear so many hats, but we’re super clear on what were taking care of at any time.
Lucy: Yeah, and I think as we’ve grown, we’ve each individually gravitated toward certain tasks. Like, Vita has been really good at spearheading social media stuff —she's been the brain behind all of that. Last year, we did these Café Forgot t-shirts, and I took on that project. We’re still both working on both things. It’s more like, like who is gravitating toward what and keeping each other in the loop.
Megan: Have you guys had to figure out what works best in terms of communicating with each other, or how you flow best while working together?
Vita: We are both creative people and we get lots of ideas all the time. It’s amazing to have someone in your life who is down to hear your ideas, talk through them, and support you. Lucy is so smart and organized, and I'm grateful she's that person for me.
Lucy: I also think our communication style is really important to me, because I need to move through things at somewhat of a slow pace, and I think we both work at a similar pace. That has felt super even, and that is really important. I’ve tried to do certain things, not even a real project but partnering with people on other things, and if they don't work at the same pace it just doesn't work.
Vita: I totally agree. We are both slow workers, and that’s really not a bad thing. We get a lot done, but the way we digest information is very thorough. I do think when people are good at working together, it’s this intuitive thing. I haven't found that with other people in the way I found that with Lucy.
Lucy: I really agree.
Vita: We’re also at that point where there’s a lot of trust. We both make mistakes. I never feel frustrated with Lucy when she makes a mistake, we both just know we’re doing the best we can. And it goes in waves. There might be a project that one of us is really excited about. Lucy is really into cinema, so there might be a project around that she owns. There are those kind of things where there's a special connection for one of us, and I think those are really important.
Lucy: Yeah. But I think generally, we are kind of on the same page about everything.
Megan: Do you two have any big shared goals or projects that are the “dream” project?
Lucy: I think a big dream goal is that we really want to have an LA store. It’s something we’ve been thinking about more recently. Right now, we’re directing our attention to maybe redoing our website, which we are really excited about.
Megan: Those are both big projects! How big is your team?
Vita: It’s just us and our store team. Our store team members are really amazing and knowledgeable, and so good with customers. Zachariah is one of our teammates in the store. I’ve known him since I was five years old, and we also carry his clothing in the store! His pants are so flattering and cool.
Megan: What were some of the biggest or most rewarding moments for you so far with Café Forgot?
Lucy: The opening party of the first shop was a really distinct memory. I felt like so many ppl came and it made me think at the time that it was possible that we could do this. We’ve had some really fun projects, too. The Nordstrom collaboration last fall was really exciting, and it was just really fun to work with and learn from a big company. Also, this is so funny, but when we heard Bella Hadid came to Café Forgot, that was a moment for us. But yeah I really love that question.
Vita: Seeing the rotating rack come to life was also a big moment. Lucy named some good ones. It’s such a happy question.
Megan: We also have to talk about the famous rotating rack in the store. How did that come to be?
Lucy: When we were thinking about the rotating rack, and designing this space for Ludlow Street, we really wanted to maintain certain elements of the design that could always be changing and transforming. So, there's a lot of examples from the 90s and early 2000s of retail spaces that had this automated element. I think there are some Issey and Prada examples from that era. So, we were thinking about those forms of automation and how to incorporate that into this space. So that's how the rotating rack emerged.
Vita: We worked with this architecture office called Any. They conceptualized it. We then found, on Craigslist, a dry cleaner in brooklyn who was transforming his drycleaning shop into a boutique and trying to get rid of this rack. So we purchased it from him and brought it into space. They have this technical way of maneuvering it, but we thought it would be funny to make a custom knob for it, so we had this furniture designer Sam Stewart create a giant button for it, to rotate the rack.
Megan: I think the most fun thing about that rotating rack is that it brings in this element of discovery. What’s your process like for discovering new designers to bring into the shop?
Vita: There are so many people making such amazing work right now and in the past 5 years really. So it's pretty organic. We see things online or hear about it through our friends. We also get a lot of emails or people reaching out to us. There are tons of different ways.
Megan: Who are some designers you recently discovered that you’re most excited about right now?
Vita: I’ve loved working with Kimberly Cordet, this past year. We are expecting new stuff from them soon. I also feel like a new designer for us is Chiomato, i’m really drawn to her stuff.
Lucy: I’m also really excited about Olga Basha Jeans. She's been working for such a long time one this project and you can really sense the work and care that has gone into making the jeans. The fabrics are sourced in such an incredible and mindful way from mills in Japan or LA for instance. The patterns ar e perfected for a unisex fit. It's this type of slow and careful approach that I find to be very inspiring.
Megan: Looking back over the past five years, is there anything you would have changed or done differently?
Vita: I wouldn’t change anything about how we did it, because it has gotten us here. I was working other jobs for so long. I would comfort myself and be like, it's okay! Good things take time.
Megan: Is there anything you would tell yourself then, or that you wish you knew in the early Café Forgot days?
Lucy: I would just try to tell myself to go with the flow. And enjoy it.