Shortly after she moved from New York to New Orleans in 2013, Jane Srisarakorn opened the jewel box-sized coffee shop Arrow Cafe (628 N. Rampart St.; www.facebook.com/arrowcafenola), which is run communally in a female-focused business with Marin Tockman, who runs the bike boutique Dashing Bicycles & Accessories, and designer Tippy Tippens, whose Goods That Matter products include stenciled tea towels and greeting cards. Srisarakorn worked stints at Danny Meyer restaurants in New York and currently works at Restaurant August and Paladar 511 when she's not manning the coffee bar. She spoke with Gambit about the third-wave coffee culture in New Orleans and how communal spaces can help foster small business growth.
How did you get into the coffee business in New Orleans?
Srisarakorn: I lived in New York for nine years, working as a bartender and a barista and I just got really passionate about coffee. I wanted a change and I wanted to open a business and be in a different city. (At the time) there were coffee shops (in New Orleans) but none that were really doing this certain kind of espresso and coffee (i.e. San Francisco's Four Barrel Coffee). After I moved here, Spitfire (Coffee) opened and then Solo (Espresso) and Cherry (Coffee), and so it was kind of like it was the right timing.
The idea was to sell espresso drinks and fresh coffee, and I wanted to find a small space with no Wi-Fi and no seating, but it evolved. Marin, who I knew from New York, also was looking for a space for her online boutique. So we ... decided to share the space. ... I sell coffee; Marin fixes and sells bikes and she teaches workshops. It's a great communal space. I feel like usually those two needs are pretty common, so it's kind of a one-stop shop.
How do you see New Orleans' coffee culture evolving?
S: There's a ton of great coffee shops and coffee roasters already here ... but I thought maybe people would like a different point of view. (Four Barrel Coffee) is special in the way that it's prepared; it's not too bitter and it's a lighter flavor profile. We do cuppings where you can really taste the different types. It's just a different style. New Orleans-style coffee is rooted in tradition, and it's got a strong flavor and chicory is very prominent and distinctive. When I think of New Orleans coffee, I think of chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde, and that's great. I think that people who are doing the different types of coffee aren't trying to compete with that; it's really its own thing.
I think as palates change, there will be a desire for this type of coffee. ... I think hopefully within the next couple of years the roasters here will evolve in their style and bring in some new types.
What are some of the benefits of operating a communal storefront?
S: I think what's happening on (Oretha Castle) Haley (Boulevard), where Church Alley (Coffee Bar) and Zeitgeist (Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center) are, is really amazing. It's great to see all these different types of businesses work together. The big thing is that a lot of people have these great ideas for businesses that are very unique but they don't necessarily have access to capital. So it's a great way to get your idea started and see if it's viable, and that's really important. The quality of life is better here, in terms of a work–to-free time ratio, and it's a city that's open to different ideas right now. It's a city in transition, too, so all those things together are pretty ripe for people who have ideas and want to start them. It's a unique time. It's a very traditional city and so there's a fear that a lot of these cultures and traditions will be displaced. Ideally, we would be able to make all these ideas viable.