Walk by Village Coffee at Freret Street and Jefferson Avenue in Uptown New Orleans around 3 p.m. on a weekday during the school year, and you’re bound to see a line of young people spilling out the door. Like a popular club on Saturday night, the place is packed with kids hanging out with friends. There is just about no way to squeeze in.
In the 21st century, the coffee shop has evolved into a modern version of the 1950s soda shop. It’s where teenagers gather. According to the National Coffee Association, young people are the fastest growing population of coffee drinkers. That’s easy to believe, especially if the shop lies within walking distance of a high school. You can bet the place will be filled with students after the final bell rings.
At Village Coffee, the crowd wanders over from nearby Lusher High School.
Kaelin Loss, a 16-year-old student at Lusher who wants to be a writer, said she finds inspiration for her fictional characters at the shop. On a recent summer afternoon, she looked around the modern, sleek interior and noticed a guy with a shaggy beard and a hat. She wondered aloud: What’s up with him? Why is he wearing that hat? What’s with that beard? She began creating a back-story for him on the spot.
Loss, however, doesn’t head there during the school year because the place is too crowded. While the background noise is like white noise when she’s writing or reading for pleasure, she says, the place is way too distracting for more serious work.
“Trying to do homework at a coffee shop is like trying to stare at a wall at Six Flags,” said Loss, who lives Uptown.
However, when fellow Lusher student Judy Watts, 16, thinks of hanging out and a friend’s house is not an option, her first thought is a coffee shop.
“I just feel like they’re made for studying and meeting people,” said Watts.
Across town, when Ashley Babin of Metairie and her friends push open the door at Chateau Coffee Café on Robert E. Lee Boulevard any weekday afternoon, they know they’ll see familiar faces. The 16-year-old, who attends nearby Mount Carmel, usually goes with a group of friends to study after school.
“We all just know where it is,” Babin said.
At first, the place bustles with kids hanging out and waiting for rides home, she said, but as the afternoon turns to early evening the number dwindles. Her friends go upstairs, where they can push tables together and it’s quieter, so they can concentrate and get homework done.
Babin could go to other shops around the city, but she likes Chateau, she said, because the coffee is good and not too expensive. Teens like her can stay caffeinated while they study.
The folks behind the counters at New Orleans coffee shops say the kids are a blessing and, sometimes, a bit of a curse.
During the last school year, Village Coffee displayed a big banner that read “All students welcome,” although manager Courtney Resweber said the rush of kids could be stressful.
“Kids come in and dump a big pile of change in your hand,” she said good-naturedly.
She said she’ll see adults walk in and then turn around and walk out when they see the crowd, but that’s OK because the kids are loyal customers and therefore good for business.
Kaci Reid, a barista at Chateau, agrees, noting that the kids fill a “business gap.” The shop serves meals, so the after-school crowd fills in the hours before the dinner crowd arrives, she said.
It’s obvious to Reid that the students view the shop as their place.
“This is their second home,” she said.
For Reid, the kids are easier to serve because they order simple drinks, such as frozen coffees that are easy to make. But, like Resweber, she’s seen regulars leave when teenagers pack the shop.
Percy Ellis at the Sound Café, near the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts in Bywater, actually credits high-school students with making him a better barista. The crowds of young people are a good training tool, he said, pushing him to work faster and more efficiently.
Besides, he added, he knows them as his regulars, with NOCCA teachers coming in for lunch and the students filling the place once classes let out.
“I love to see usual customers and know what they want before I even talk to them,” he said.
Noah Simon is a contributor to Nolavie.com. He is a junior at Lusher High School.