“We basically put in every nail with our own hands,” said Kertes, who was permitted by Alkalay to renovate the space largely as he pleased.
After a short-term hiatus, live music will make a comeback in January. And in three-month rotations, four local artists will display their paintings and photos, and gallery shows will allow patrons to mingle with local artists like Robin Amy Bass.
Other attractions include Poetry Night on Tuesdays and Open Mic on Thursday evenings, and a stand-up comedy evening is also being considered.
“Our renovation has made a huge difference,” said Alkalay.
Red Pipe is one of a few cafes in the area where patrons can find organic, vegan, gluten-free pastries.
“It is a fast-growing movement,” said Alkalay of the vegan lifestyle. “We are contributing to a better world by not destroying the environment or hurting people’s health.”
His experiences in early adulthood influenced his vision for Red Pipe Cafe.
“When I was younger, I would go to coffeehouses in the Village and in Europe, which were really meeting places for the arts,” said Alkalay. “You could hear at any given table a heated discussion on contemporary or classic art, music, and literature, so I wanted to create a place where community and the arts can come together.
“I love the idea that we are providing culture in our community instead of just food,” he added. “People come in and just love the ambiance. Even if there is no event, the place develops an energy.”
Kertes draws upon culinary experiences that began at the age of 15. He perfected his skills in a culinary institute in Israel, owned a coffee shop, and was an executive chef in high-end hotels. Red Pipe Cafe was his go-to spot in the neighborhood.
“My recipe for success is to be passionate and consistent by serving delicious, healthy food,” he said. “It’s really nice working with musicians and artists. I was drawn to the vibe.”
Kertes explained some new concepts he has brought to the cafe.
“People really like being served our coffee in a variety of colorful mugs, and we are also selling them,” he said. “For every three bags of coffee purchased, you will get a free mug.”
He also takes pride in a new line of soups.
“Everyone is asking for our red bean soup, as well as our lentil and split pea soups and vegetable stew,” Kertes said. “Our turmeric latte is a huge success, the hot apple cider is really nice, and our coconut milk hot chocolate is a real treat.”
The sandwich menu has also been revitalized, and four varieties of craft wines and beers have also proven to be a big attraction.
“We decided to go out of the ordinary selection and promote more of the New York-based brewers,” said Kertes. “We have received a good response,”
The new Red Pipe bulletin board features the popular “Word of The Day,” “Thought For The Day” and “On This Day.”
“It becomes an art exhibit, and we have people from the neighborhood who are maintaining it,” said Kertes.
“Every new customer is assigned a certain position to create a sense of responsibility and community,” he continued. “Marina tests our brownies, Gary is the bulletin board manager, Scott is our coffee shop chauffeur, Charlie is the door bouncer, Lou is the shop consultant, and Marty is our cleaning inspector. They become employees, and we end up having more employees than customers!”
Kertes has high expectations for the future.
“In ten years, Red Pipe will hopefully have more branches in Queens,” he said. “As long as we keep the same concept and not feel like a big corporation.”