The Local Café is my Office. So What?

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Norah Michaels

I reside in NYC and am a career/life coach and the CEO of Spes Music and Arts Management. I have a background in the corporate, arts, and media worlds.

Cafes have always been an integral part of my life since my childhood in the late 1980’s. It’s so interesting to see that café culture has now become part of so many lives both personally and professionally. The local coffee shop that was once a hang out to decompress and socialize has now also become an alternative office to many freelancers and remote employees.

Growing-up and Coffee Shops

Some of my fondest childhood memories with my mom and grandma were in a coffee shop or cafe. I grew up in the Washington, DC area and on the weekends my mom always had something cultural planned, whether it was a day at the National Gallery or going to the Kennedy Center. We always ‘pre- gamed’ at a café and then went on to our destination.

I usually ordered some type of chocolate drink and pastry while she sat there holding her coffee. We would have these adult like conversations. It is rather comical when I think about it now as a grown woman. Looking back on those moments, I think there were probably very few 10 year- old girls who had discussions with their moms about global politics and who actually understood what was going on, as well as discussing when their new Minnie Mouse jacket was going to arrive. So bizarre!  She always picked these places with vintage décor and cool art work. We talked about the importance of supporting local business because it provides jobs for people in the community.

Going to cafes with my grandmother was a completely different experience. She wasn’t the little grandma who made cookies and wore floral dresses. She was trendier than most women in their twenties and was sort of a socialite. I was her little buddy who tagged along from time to time. These café moments were usually a pit stop on the way to somewhere interesting or a break from some activity like Antiquing in Kensington, Maryland for 5 hours. I saw more Rococo and Baroque furniture in one day than any child should ever be subjected to in their life time. There were also times when she had dinner plans with some friends at their homes on Embassy row, so we would make a day of it in the area and café stops were always a must.

We always ‘pre- gamed’ at a café and then went on to our destination.

University Life and Coffee Shops

I carried this cafe tradition into my adult life. When I attended Rutgers University I found this place called Café 52. Every day was like a scene out of a poorly directed French Noir film at 52 and I loved it. The place was decorated in old dark wood furniture. Ornate church pews upholstered with Middle Eastern rugs was the primary seating. There was an outdoor garden with a large Italian style flagstone fountain. The owner was this free spirited Lebanese man who everyone knew. People smoked on the lower level and the characters that came in ranged from the deluded, old, smelly local vagabond poet to theatre types, and finance majors. It was a motley crew of characters and there was never a dull moment.

I was able to study and hang out there as long as I desired until that one morning when I arrived and the place was burned to the ground. There was a tragic fire the night before and I was heartbroken. Where was I going to spend my time between classes? Where would I study? The friends that I just made all congregated there. The library was so boring and sterile.  

About a month later I found West End Café and that not only became my new study spot, but also became my second home for years to come. The owner was an Italian American guy who reminded me of Joe Pesci and became like an uncle to all of us who frequented the West End. Many of the staff members and regulars are still some of my best friends today.

It was a welcoming environment and all of us really loved each other like a family. Some of us were freelancers and others were students. Eventually, West End closed, but it was the hub for creatives to work and study in that area of NJ at that time. This is when I started to first notice the beginning of an actual work culture within the café realm. It was starting to evolve into something bigger than anyone could have ever imagined.

Cafe Gypsy

I moved to NYC when I accepted a promotion and was assigned to manage a national team. I was requested to work from home since my business was no longer geo centric. Working from home for someone in a suburb is great because you have space. 

Working all day from a one bedroom in NYC is like being assigned to work from a coffin. I had to create an alternative. I like being around people and I knew that this wasn’t going to work if I isolated myself. I decided to become part of this new wave of gypsies who work from cafes.

I had a few regular spots in different parts of the city so I could mix it up. Most of the people I saw everyday were freelancers or remote corporate employees like myself. Cafes in major cities knew that they had tapped into a specific demographic and I am still one of them as a freelancer today. Great Wi-Fi, good coffee, and a nice ambiance is all you need. If you have that deadly trifecta people will make everything else work. Conference calls are taken outside or in bathrooms where there is no background music.

Sometimes, if it is a long call, the owner of independent cafes let their customers use their office area. Not everyone can afford Colab work spaces and elite clubs that cost thousands of dollars a year. Therefore, the symbiotic relationship between freelancers and cafés continue to flourish.

So what is this allure that attracts so many of us working Bedouins to a café? Here are my 5 main factors!

  1.      Coffee! –  There is something so appealing about having access to coffee all day. Many places have all day deals and refill options as well as food.
  2.      Liveliness – I am more creative and productive in a space that has a lot of activity and life. Cafes are usually happy environments and keep you motivated.
  3.      Ambiance – They usually have art work on the walls and you aren’t sitting at a desk. It’s like being in an extension of home without being home.
  4.      Comradery – You develop a click if you frequent somewhere and these people become your colleagues. The beauty is that they don’t work with or for you. However, there is this mutual respect. Everyone gets the hustle.
  5.      Freedom – I am happier when I know I am not being confined. I am a self motivated worker (you can read more about this here )

therefore the freedom to café hop or come in anytime I want gives me the fluidity to be productive anywhere.

Listed below are some of my favorite 10 cafes to work from in NYC

  1.      Spanish Harlem – Dear Mama
  2.      Spanish Harlem – UGC Eats
  3.      Upper East Side – DTUT
  4.      Greenwich Village –  Café Reggio
  5.      Greenwich Village – Stumptown
  6.      Greenwich Village – Grounded
  7.      Lower East Side – Black Cat Coffee Shop
  8.      Tribeca – The Roxy Hotel
  9.      Park Slope – Brooklyn –  Sir D’s Lounge
  10.      Bushwick – Brooklyn – Cypress Inn Cafe


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