A Blériot breakfast

Georgi Dimov (third from right) in the gallery before its transformation. Photo: Bleriot via Facebook
How artist Georgi Dimov transformed his Yorkville gallery into a French-themed café
by zac howard

Nestled between a hair salon and a laundromat on a docile stretch of 83rd Street between Second and Third Avenues lies a quaint, elegant new coffee shop called Café Blériot XI. Prior to last summer, it was the Ditra Fine Art Gallery, run by local artist Georgi Dimov.

Inspired by the opening of the Second Avenue Subway, which includes an entrance on 83rd Street a stone’s throw from the café, Dimov and his family decided a coffee shop would be a better use of the space.

Dimov is an artist and art collector, and remains focused on his trade. His wife, Zhivka Dimova, and their college-aged son, Theo, work behind the counter at Café Blériot XI, making drinks and serving food.

The name is a tribute to French aviator Louis Blériot, best known for being the first to fly an airplane across the English Channel. According to Dimov, legend has it that Blériot failed on his first two attempts, but accomplished it on the third, after eating a good breakfast.

“That’s kind of the message of the café,” said Theo Dimov, who assisted his father with the renovation. “Come start your day right. Have a croissant, have a coffee and, you know, do your thing.”

Dimov painted a striking portrait of Blériot’s face on the shop’s street-side window. The Blériot XI is the name of plane that finally made the successful flight.

If Dimov’s skill isn’t apparent from the view outside, one can hardly miss it upon entering. A regal chandelier hangs from the gilded ceiling, illuminating the hand-painted, golden fleurs-de-lis spanning the walls, which display restored paintings and original pencil drawings. There is a wooden, L-shaped bench, with two marble top round tables and three chairs for those who wish to linger.

It’s the type of setting one could imagine spotting Henry James and Edith Wharton enjoying a Manhattan rendezvous over a cup of coffee more than a century ago. In reality though, it’s a coffee shop quiet enough to read a novel by James or Wharton, which may in fact be a more enchanting fantasy. Dimov said he hoped to create an “18th century feeling” inside the shop.

Dimov and his wife are from Bulgaria. He studied art in Germany in the early 1990s, before moving to New York City in 1998 with $500 in his pocket and no fluency in English. After years of going through the immigration and citizenship protocols, Dimova and their children joined him. He trained under the notable Bulgarian painter Anton Russev, who also lives in New York. Dimov has a range of specializations, including still life, watercolor and oil paintings and restorations. His website, dimovart.com, includes a selection of his work and accomplishments.

The family has bounced around in the years since, with stops in New Jersey and Florida, eventually returning to Manhattan. Dimov found the space on 83rd Street in 2013, which served as his gallery until last year.

Neighborhood resident and fellow Bulgarian Dora Valkanova said she comes in about every other day, often bringing some of the other moms from PS 158 after they take their children to school. She said one of the reasons they frequent the shop is because of Dimova’s hospitality. “She’s really nice, like genuinely nice,” Valkanova said. “Not just a fake smile and, ‘Oh, I’ll be nice to you because I work here.’” Valkanova comes in most Saturdays with her 9-year-old daughter, who practices her Bulgarian with Dimova.

“We make a lot of new friends,” Dimova said with a laugh.

“And the coffee is really strong,” Valkanova said. “That’s how I get people to come. They can walk for a good coffee.”

The café brews New Jersey-based Coperaco coffee and serves pastries from the Brooklyn-based Colson Patisserie. They offer several specials including 10 percent off for students and hospital staff, BOGO pastries after 5 p.m. and 20 percent off for senior citizens Monday through Wednesday. They also provide complimentary Wi-Fi. In addition to coffee and pastries, the shop sells sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads, as well as treats like macaroons, cookies and hot chocolate.

This past Sunday afternoon, Yorkville locals Stephanie Sumulong and Yedi Peguro stumbled upon Café Blériot XI while on their way to another coffee shop and decided to give it a try. They, too, admired Dimova’s reputable service.

“She was super polite,” Sumulong said. She and Peguro consider themselves casual coffee connoisseurs.

“When you go to Starbucks, you feel like you’re just a number,” Peguro said.

Peguro also appreciated Dimova’s thorough drink preparation. “It was very methodical, thoughtful,” she said. “I can tell she has a passion for it.”

Both women said they intend to return to Café Blériot XI in the future. “It’s definitely more intimate here,” Sumulong said.