New Orleans by John Biguenet ~
City Guide for Poets & Writers
More suitable for serious work is Fair Grinds Coffee House (3133 Ponce de Leon Street), just down the block from the city’s newest and tiniest bookshop, Maple Street Books at Bayou Saint John (3141 Ponce de Leon Street). A former bookie joint, Fair Grinds takes its name from the nearby Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, whose finish line can be seen with binoculars if one stands on a kitchen chair in its backyard. For two years after the levee collapse as the former owners fought with insurers to rebuild the business, regulars brought their Times-Picayunes and thermoses of coffee to gather each Sunday in front of the ruined shop. Community organizer and ACORN founder Wade Rathke purchased the coffeehouse last year. Reopened with free Wi-Fi, a library lamp on each table, and a large covered patio, it is a favorite hangout of writers and musicians.
By Crystal Qian, JCamp Live Reporter, and Lillie Martin, JCamp Live Photographer
By The Lens Nola
Coffee becomes a hot commodity after Isaac
POSTED: 03:58 PM Friday, August 31, 2012
BY: Jennifer Larino, Staff Writer
Wade Rathke, owner of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, stood outside his business in a t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops on Thursday and patted the running 5,500-watt generator growling on the shop’s small side patio, normally home to a few quiet patrons perusing books and newspapers.
Rathke, who purchased the coffee shop in 2011, didn’t expect to be one of the few businesses up and running in the Bayou St. John neighborhood following Hurricane Isaac’s tear up from the Louisiana coast and through New Orleans as a Category 1 storm.
He made a last-minute trip to Lowe’s the Monday before Isaac made landfall and picked up the last two generators in the store, mostly to keep the ice in the shop’s ice machines from melting. The shop closed at 2 p.m. Tuesday and three of the five-person staff evacuated for the storm.
But when Rathke braved the drive from his Bywater home to the shop at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday to check on the generators and found the storm had yet to knock out power to his shop, he decided to throw a sign up on the front.
“We’d been a bit arrogant about it,” Rathke said on Thursday, laughing as he waved customers wandering in up to the dimly lit counter.
The power at Fair Grinds was out by the time Rathke returned again at 5:30 a.m. Thursday.
Still, he decided to open with limited offerings, mainly iced coffee and teas. His son, Chaco, helped work the counter with another employee.
“Coffee is a low-margin business,” Rathke said. “We’re not in this to make a ton of money. At this point reopening is something we’re doing for the community.”
About dozen customers, most bedraggled having gone more than 24 hours without power, wandered in, searching their pockets for cash and thanking Rathke and the staff for opening their doors.
Down the block, locals lined up outside of Canseco’s grocery store for bags of ice and other essentials.
Around noon, Rathke borrowed his mother’s one-gallon percolator to make hot coffee for customers, instead of running the expensive and power-sucking brewing machines.
Rathke, 64, a New Orleans native, noted the power outages, downed tree limbs and other damage left behind in Isaac’s wake are minor compared to previous storms that area has seen.
Still, he said getting a coffee shop back to business, keeping in mind health codes, customer experience and other factors, was a balancing act still new to him.
“Every time you think you’ve learned something you’ve got to learn it all over again,” Rathke said.