Polygon boss Yuri Ezhkov may not enjoy cups of joe but he does love his trendy coffee shop on Second Street
It’s not often you find a business owner who doesn’t like the product he’s selling. Rupert Murdoch likes reading newspapers. Richard Branson likes flying in airplanes. Li Ka-shing likes, well, money. But Yuri Ezhkov is different to your average entrepreneur. He doesn’t like the taste of coffee. But he’s just opened a coffee shop in Sai Ying Pun. Work that out.
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Polygon was opened by Ezkhov on Monday May 1. It sits in Second Street and has already drawn decent crowds of people who either want to check out the exclusive Intelligentsia coffee or enjoy the chic neighbourhood vibe at the café. But despite its instant success, it’s being run by a Russian-American who doesn’t like a good cup of joe. “I really don’t like it,” he says. “I grew up in a household which was obsessed with coffee, so I can make it and I understand it. I love the smell. I just don’t like the taste. But I educated myself about coffee and so this, for me, is why I’m running this Polygon passion project. I don’t need to like coffee to appreciate it!”
Ezhkov, who was born in Moscow but grew up in New York, says he’s delighted to open Polygon, which is a totally new kind of business venture for him. The 36-year-old owns The Hub, a New York-based cosmetic goods content development and marketing company which has 10 team members. “I’ve been coming to Hong Kong regularly for the past 10 years,” he says. “The original plan was to set up an office for The Hub here which would cover Asia but the more I’ve spoken to people in this city over that time, the more it seems that Hong Kong is saturated with companies like mine. It’s a smaller market here compared to New York, so it isn’t worth it. But I’ve grown to love Hong Kong and really wanted to live here. So, over the past year, I’ve moved to the city and I’ve been thinking about what I can do while consulting for a few companies. One day, I just decided that I’ll open a café. And that’s what I’ve done.”
“This is a passion project for me, I welcome coffee fanatics but it’s really about Sai Ying Pun residents, like the local mums who want an afternoon drink or the businessmen on their way to work.”
The idea for Polygon came after a conversation Ezkhov had with a friend in Hong Kong a few months back. “As I say, I don’t drink coffee,” he says. “I only drink tea and I’m OCD about it. I love green tea the way the Japanese have it and I prefer lighter varieties. But I wanted to open a coffee shop, however my friend joked that I should open a tea shop because I love it and know a lot about it. I said ‘no’ because coffee shops work best in Hong Kong but, after that, I was keen to sneak my love for tea in there, so that’s what I’ve done. We serve up some incredible teas from a local company, TeaCha. They make some amazing teas. In fact, we’re working closely with TeaCha to develop custom blends for our shop as the founder is a close friend.”
Probably the biggest draw for coffee enthusiasts at Polygon is the fact it serves up Intelligentsia brews from Chicago, USA. In fact, it’s the first coffee shop in Asia to serve these blends, which is big news as Intelligentsia has become a new wave hit with enthusiasts in North America over the past couple of decades. The baristas at Polygon serve up the Black Cat Classic blend from South America, although there are also bags of Matalpa beans from El Salvador and Zirikana beans from Rwanda for sale on the shelves. “We serve Black Cat espressos,” says Ezhkov. “This is an acquired taste, for sure. There’s no bitterness. It’s bright and brings out some of the more chocolate and floral notes in the coffee. But we’re planning to cycle through different beans every couple of months so customers can enjoy different flavour profiles. It’s a huge coup to be the first in Asia to serve Intelligentsia coffee and we want people to taste all its different varieties over time.”
Ezhkov says he loves Hong Kong. “It’s like New York in terms of its cosmopolitan nature,” he says, “but everything’s so much closer. You can get a cab and you’re at The Peak in 10 minutes or Sai Kung for a total change of pace in no time. And I love Sai Ying Pun too. There are a lot of coffee shops in Hong Kong and there’s a lot on Sai Ying Pun alone. But many of them are on Hollywood Road or Centre Street or places like that, where you don’t feel you’re going off-the-beaten path for something special. A lot of these places lack identity. We’re at the quiet end of Second Street. We have a strong identity. We’re like a secret waiting to be discovered.”
Ezkhov says he wants to create a ‘neighbourhood anchor’ at Polygon. “The garden out the back,” he says, “is green, secluded and comfortable and the space inside is chic, modern and industrial. We have no signage outside. It’s for the neighbourhood to discover us and know this place is for them, particularly as my team is encouraged to talk to our customers, get to know them, know what drinks they like, how they like them and when they come in. So many coffee shops in Hong Kong discourage their team from chatting with customers. I proactively encourage it. That’s how you create a homely neighbourhood gathering place. That and the fact a pot of tea is only $40 and our lattes are just $35 each. Polygon is affordable luxury.”
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“This is a passion project for me,” continues Ezhkov. “The rents are high in Hong Kong and I won’t make much money here. But it’s something I want to do for coffee and tea lovers, and for the local neighbourhood that I’ve so quickly come to love. I mean, I welcome coffee fanatics from across town who have been waiting to taste Intelligentsia brews but it’s really about Sai Ying Pun residents, like the local mums who want an afternoon drink or the businessmen on their way to work.”
Alongside the quality teas and coffees, there’s also a Marco water boiler on the counter at Polygon which heats at three different temperatures simultaneously. Ezhkov claims it’s the first in Hong Kong. “I’m pleased with what we have here, like the Marco machine, and already the neighbourhood has welcomed us,” he says. “This is one of four planned locations in the city and the second will launch hopefully later this year. Each one is to be a neighbourhood anchor that reflects the space it’s in, like this one that still keeps the original floor – it was a garage before – with all its scratches and stains over 50 years. That’s the point: we’re keeping quite literally to our neighbourhood roots.”
Polygon is open daily, 9am-6pm, at 14 Second St. Read more at polygon-cafe.launchrock.com.