New coffee shop inspires vintage traveling, community environment

A themed coffee shop, Flight Crew, recently opened in downtown Manhattan. (Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

The smell of freshly brewed coffee, the sound of an espresso machine buzzing and people mingling with friends over a cup of joe greet you as you walk into Manhattan’s newest coffee shop, Flight Crew.

However, this is not your ordinary coffee shop: wall décor of planes, vintage stewardesses and a menu board that looks as if you should be searching for your flight terminal showcase the aviation theme throughout the eatery.

“I love all things vintage, I love the 40s and 50s and I love traveling,” Heather Hnizdil, owner of Flight Crew, said. “I feel like there’s that wanderlust thing about flying that used to be much more like, ‘Ooh, flying,’ and you dress up to fly, but that’s not there anymore — people wear pajamas [to fly].”

(Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)
(Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

After Hnizdil graduated from Kansas State with a degree in printmaking, she traveled abroad in Taiwan and worked as a designer for a jazz band. She came up with the name Flight Crew for the band but ended up using it herself.

“When I decided to name my coffee shop Flight Crew, all these ideas came,” Hnizdil said. “I could do this, this could be called this, and it just snowballed.”

Hnizdil said she wasn’t sure what the next step in her career path should be after her time abroad. After some nudging from her sisters, Hnizdil decided to embark on her business journey and made Manhattan home once again.

“You just live once, you know, and you might as well risk,” Hnizdil said. “I thought, ‘Let’s see what goes into it,’ and once I decided I’m going to do this, it went really fast. I did start the process in Loveland, Colorado, but one of my sisters works for K-State, and I came and visited in July and saw there was a space available. So, I just called to see what the difference in rent between here and there, and the more I thought about it, I thought I would love to be in Manhattan again.”

Even though Flight Crew is a fairly new business, making its debut this past October, Hnizdil said she has already built a thriving community of customers and staff that bring life to the shop.

“Because I’m there all the time, I feel like we’ve been open longer than we have, so it keeps surprising me when daily, every second or third customer says they’ve never been here before,” Hnizdil said. “I’ve enjoyed being back in the community and meeting other business owners on the street. The best part of a coffee shop is it’s a friendly place. I’ve become friends with a lot of customers, and I feel like they’ve become friends with myself and my staff: it’s like building a family.”

Hannah Peters, a frequent coffee shop customer around Manhattan, said she has found a new favorite spot upon visiting Fight Crew.

“Coffee shops are my go-to place to study or meet up with friends, and I love all of the places here in Manhattan,” Peters said. “When I heard that there was a new one opening, I was excited to try it out. It’s such a unique decor that really sets it apart from others. I feel like I’m in a fancy airport ready to board when I’m in there. It’s also nice to see Manhattan’s small-business crowd growing.”

(Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)
(Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

Flight Crew offers a variety of beverages and foods, all named to fit the theme, like the “Aviator,” which is coconut milk and mocha, or the “International,” their almond milk and hazelnut espresso. All of their food items are made by Little Batch Bakery, as the shop doesn’t have its own oven set up yet.

“The chestnut praline is my favorite drink,” Peters said. “I tried it over the holidays, and it was a great flavor for Christmas time on a cold day. I can’t wait to see what else they come up with.”

The process of picking what recipes to serve is an experimental one, especially for new seasonal drinks. Hnizdil said her previous experience has served her well in these tasks.

“For drinks, I worked in coffee shops for years and thought, ‘What are the things that I love,’ and I feel there have to be more people like me that love these too,” Hnizdil said. “As we’ve gone along, I ask my baristas what they’d like to try. Our seasonal drinks are definitely a collaboration of everyone behind the bar: we order a couple flavors and see what we think, what does it pair well with.”

There are also special events to look forward to at the coffee shop. Every Friday and Saturday night, Flight Crew hosts a live musician for guests to enjoy.

“We’re always looking for people who would like an opportunity to perform,” Hnizdil said. “It doesn’t have to be singing. I love the cello, and Feb. 5 we’re having an accordion player, so that’s fun. I wanted somewhere on a Friday or Saturday night to go that wasn’t the bar scene.”

Flight Crew is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is located at 423 Poyntz Ave. More information is available on the business’s Instagram page @flightcrewcoffee.