This week I was really missing France, French and the community of francophiles I surrounded myself with in undergrad. We discussed the Lumiere brothers in relation to visual culture in my Intro to American Studies class, I led a discussion on Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby” and then I walked home from the grocery store with my recyclable bag filled with fresh veggies for my dinner. With a pang, I realized I was deeply missing one of my favorite parts about France: the cafe.
The French coffee shop speaks to my soul in a unique way. It’s the perfect intersection of introversion and extroversion: one may go to a cafe to be alone among others. It’s the perfect place to see and be seen. During my brief stints abroad, I spent most of my time posted up in a corner of a nearby cafe, nursing a cafe au lait, peering over the top of my book at the passersby. I was my best self in cafes; I was comfortable because I was in my element. As much as we want to call Starbucks a “coffee shop,” the vibe just isn’t right. It’s too…commercial. So, I’m always in search of coffee shops that are independently owned because the independent coffee shops are as close as I can get to my beloved French cafes.
I’d been aware of the Black owned coffee shop in Williamsburg for a while now, but for whatever reason, I hadn’t visited until this week. In search of some desperately needed recharging time, my friend suggested we spend the afternoon at the Coffeehouse and before I knew it, I was in love.
Quaint and quirky, the Coffeehouse has the kind of character that I love in independent coffee shops. It felt like I was walking into someone’s house because the walls were filled with pictures of the owner’s family and staff, all smiling and happy. The menus were carefully written on chalkboard along the top of the wall behind the cash register. Dozens of containers of diverse coffee beans lined the opposite wall and the staff knew most everyone that walked in by name.
The shop is owned by a man named Charles, who is without a doubt, one of the best and purest people I’ve ever met– despite only having interacted with him about three times, I know can tell what a good person he is. He makes sure to speak to every costumer that walks in and he gets to know at least a little bit about them. He prides himself on his shop being a haven for grad students like me and my friends to come and relax, and is more than willing to do whatever he can to improve the quality of our lives. Without a moment’s hesitation, he agreed to let us host a Black graduate student event in the shop and smiled broadly at the suggestion that we turn his shop into the William and Mary’s Black grad population’s version of the Pit.
Having spent the majority of my time at UVA hiding out in the Outreach Office of Admission, where everyone had invested interest in me, I was so excited to find the Coffeehouse. This off the beaten path coffee shop may become my hide away, the place where I feel safe and cared for. Like my Outreach family, the shop owner is very open about his trials and tribulations, and because of this, he has nothing but compassion to offer to everyone who enters his spot. Though I’ve only been to the Coffeehouse about three times now, I feel like I’ve been going there my whole life.
All that being said, I think this leads to a very important piece of advice for succeeding in grad school: try your best to find a space where you feel safe. Having a hide away for when things get to be too much will get you through many a bad day. With end of the semester stress looming, I’m a lot calmer knowing that I have somewhere to go and unwind, and a new friend to talk to.