New Orleans They call it a “soft” opening because it’s a way to cushion the hard falls that come when something like a fair trade coffeehouse makes its debut. After three-and-a-half years running Fair Grinds Coffeehouse as a social enterprise supporting our organizing in another neighborhood, we aren’t exactly rookies anymore, but no matter the amount of preparation, something is going to give.
Set to open at 6AM on what we called “No Fool’s Day,” I drove over in the pre-dawn minutes before the gates would open officially to find Stella Giblas, our barista, standing on the street with her bicycle leaning against the gate – locked out! How about that for a worst case scenario? After getting her in, we were darned if we could figure out how to turn on the new lights over the entranceway. We even panicked about whether or not we were turning on the espresso machine correctly, especially since it could be years before we ever turn it off again. Needless to say all of this was no big deal, but it is why soft openings exist.
In the 1970’s I used to think it would be a great idea to have a combined coffeehouse, bookstore, etc, etc, place, so I actually like the ambiance and community of a coffeehouse and find it both compatible with the work and kind of fun in its own way. Our first customers establishing the new culture of our second location were incredibly interesting.
A Parisian woman and her boyfriend who is interested in Mayan signs and permaculture were the first. Since she had helped do the menu, she wasn’t quite a civilian, but almost one. Three tourists who had gotten one of the flyers that my companera, my son, and I had distributed on Sunday afternoon came in. I’ve always been a big believer in flyers, so here was proof again along with an $18.00 ticket! A woman biked in who spoke French and was on her way to work. One of our local librarians turned up who I had flyered yesterday. A lawyer who does our notary work was there early, as was our electrician. The first table was occupied by a local gardener who lives in the neighborhood. She was chatting with an art teacher and her friend on the way to yoga class. He looked closely at all of our plants.
Stella was on her game behind the coffee bar. She recognized the plant guy from the paper. Bingo! She made some Guatemalan quesadillas, while she was waiting for the first customers, which were not only delicious but big fan favorites. My office over looks the coffeehouse on a short balcony. I can hear my daughter, who was the architect and designer of this space, talking downstairs. I’m a happy man!
Now we need the crowd to multiply so we can squeeze some money from all of this love and labor.
It might be soft, but it seems like a solid start.