There has been a ton of recent press featuring Aussie cafés in NYC.  Most feature either the highly successful coffee chains or those found only in NoLIta.

To highlight some of the other Aussie businesses in NYC, here is the first in a series of articles featuring Australian Cafépreneurs. 

We want our readers to learn more about their Aussie owners, and what is unique about their businesses.   For our first location we sat down with Lee and Sid Chitnis, the owners and operators of Saltwater located at 345 E 12th Street between 2nd and 1st Avenues.

Lee, where were you and Sid born? 

We were both born overseas.  I was born in China and Sid was born in India.  We migrated with our parents when we were both 5 years old and grew up in Sydney’s Western Suburbs. 

Lee, what did you (both) do in Oz before moving to NYC?

Sid worked in corporate finance at Deloitte, and I was an interior designer for an architecture firm.  I also supported my parents family bridal wholesale business.

What brought you to NYC?

We both fell in love with NYC when we travelled here on a vacation after University. We wanted to live and work here for a few years to really allow us to discover more about the city.

The vibrancy and energy in the city was so addictive so we set about looking for work in our respective fields over here. I got a job doing exhibition design at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Sid found a job in Valuations at an investment bank.

What inspired you to open a café in NYC?

We’ve always wanted to have our own family business, something we could work on together. We knew it would come with its challenges, especially after we had our son last year but it’s all been worth it so far.

We wanted to recreate the laid back coffee culture we get at home. Teamed with the fact we had great friends, Ed and Kirby, who roast Little Marionette beans in Sydney that we loved to drink, it made the decision seem much easier.

We felt like we could give a very genuine hospitality experience to our customers and we luckily had the team behind us that helped us get it going.

What do you feel is unique about Saltwater?

The space was designed with the family kitchen in mind, and centered around how we could give every customer a family style hospitality, like when guests enter our home. When we would do summer trips to the beach, there was always a great local family-owned café you could grab coffee from before heading to explore the beaches.

That was also the inspiration behind the name ‘Saltwater’. The light, clean, bright interior was also aimed to evoke that feeling those places and beaches had on us.

Our focus is on premium coffee which is roasted in small batches. Our beans are currently roasted in Sydney, Australia by Ed from Little Marionette, soon to be roasted locally. We also dose higher than most coffee shops, so customers get a fuller bodied taste with minimal acidity.

Sid, being the Finance expert, what advice do you have for any Aussie thinking of opening a small business in NYC?

  • Find a great real estate broker we couldn’t have done it without the support of ours.
  • Surrounding yourself with a great team, they make all the difference.
  • Ensuring you find the best people in each particular area that you can learn from. We are constantly learning new things from our roasters, baristas, suppliers and customers.
  • Always do your research and speak with as many people in the industry as you can.  Sometimes the hardest thing can be walking away from a deal or project that isn’t right for your business in the long term.

For hours and location you can visit

Click here to read Part II – Hutch and Waldo