Ok. So the title of this post is a little misleading, especially the term “Black Atlanta.” You might say that Black Atlanta is full of cafes and coffeeshops. Just look at the area just east of downtown formerly known as Sweet Auburn around Edgewood. Old Fourth Ward is the name of part of that area. Plenty of sexy coffeshops there. Yes, but arguably, that is no longer “Black” Atlanta as rising costs of living in the city have driven black residents and businesses out of business or out of town.
You might also look around or do a quick Google search and find that there are plenty of black-owned coffeeshops and cafes around the greater Atlanta area. Also true. In fact, I frequent one – the glorious Grant Park Coffeehouse (owned by an Ethiopian woman) – at least once every week or two, since I don’t live anywhere near there. But many of these places aren’t located where black people in Atlanta currently live. They’re located where everything else is located leaving black neighborhoods deprived of such spots to do things like: grab a cup of coffee (or coffee-adjacent drinks) while people watching, get caught up on work with your headphones in a semi-public space, meet that cute someone for a pseudo-date before the “real” date, sit and read a book, get out of the house, etc.
Upon a quick Google search of some of the major [remaining] black neighborhoods in Atlanta, my suspicions became clear to me. I looked at the area of town down Candler Rd around south Decatur/Panthersville (start south of Memorial and go all the way down to I-285, and from 285 perimeter on the east to South Moreland Ave). I also looked at the large span of land from Northside Drive by the West End/AUC/Vine City all the way west to Adamsville, down Cascade Rd, Ben Hill and Campbellton Rd, down to Camp Creek and back east across to the Atlanta Airport, Hapeville, all the way to south Moreland. This scope includes Bankhead, East Point, and College Park, by the way.
In the first section of town (which isn’t technically “Atlanta” of course, but rather Decatur, where it’s greater), I found a grand total of ONE that I could definitely call a coffeeshop or cafe. No, this isn’t the kind of soul food cooking buffet style cafe that you go to after church on Sundays. No. I mean cafe in the most traditional sense. The one place I found was a Dunkin Donuts on Candler Rd across from South Dekalb Mall. Not a Starbucks nor a small business of the sort to be seen in this entire area of town. Should you live in this area, you’d have to go to East Lake or up to downtown Decatur, or westward toward Grant Park in Atlanta for coffee. Or you could go to one of the two McDonald’s on Candler Rd. But I’m not counting those in this.
In the second section, the really big section of town on the westside and south Atlanta, there are three places – three ACTUAL places you could potentially visit. One is Community Grounds Cafe in South Atlanta on McDonough. It’s a pretty chill place. They have a little bookstore/library and a grocery store connected to it. And I believe that it’s black-owned. That checks all my boxes. (Any further north and you run into the Grant Park area which is not by any means a black neighborhood.) Now, the other two are in the West End. The first of these is on Abernathy near Westview Cemetery and is a chain coffee company called Koinonia Coffee ATL. I tried to visit a few days ago (and it prompted this post). It’s located inside of a tiny little neighborhood grocery store. Literally inside of it. When you walk in, there is a table basically in the middle of the aisles. A reviewer on Google said it was a great place to do work, so I went. No it is not. Lies. It’s a decent place for grab and go coffee, sure, but not to sit and work or to leisurely people watch or to read. The other place (I have not been) is called 640 West Community Cafe, closer to the AUC in the West End (in the active area around West End Mall). Apparently, it’s what I’m looking for, and they even have open mic nights. So cool, great. Outside of these, there are a few Dunkin Donuts and, when you get to the slightly more affluent areas way outside the 285 perimeter, you get Starbucks here and there. Literally, here and there – there are only two. They’re always packed.
Of course, I’m leaving out the spaces at Morehouse/Spelman/CAU. Because, well, they’re for students. I can go. Maybe you can’t. I’m also leaving out the Airport because, well, neither of us can go unless we’re going to catch a flight. Who goes to the airport just to hang out though? Talk about a getaway.
There are a few places in East Point/College Park/Hapeville. In this area, between the West End and the Airport, there are 4 places (that aren’t Dunkin Donuts) that fit my criteria. But these areas are quickly gentrifying due to their prime proximity to downtown/midtown, the Airport, and a major MARTA subway line.
So what does all this mean? Does it mean black people don’t want/life coffee or coffeeshops? Not in the least bit. Maybe many [white] coffeeshop owners don’t want to open locations in these areas for all sorts of reasons. Did you feel my eyeroll? Perhaps this is connected to the fact of there being so many fast food chains in black neighborhoods as compared with white/more affluent neighborhoods. Is coffeehouse culture congruent with black culture? What’s going on? Why should black residents who live in black neighborhoods have to go out of their way to drive out of their neighborhoods, sometimes for miles, to get to a place like this? Yea, some data may suggest that black people aren’t the main customers of these places, but perhaps that’s because they lack the means to get there – or when they can, they wonder why they have to travel so far. I’m thinking about black and low-income folks by the way. But particularly black. Coffehouses get their coffee from black and brown countries around the world, and often employ black and brown people to harvest it. Black people often find work as baristas in these places. But owners won’t put them in black or brown neighborhoods.
I’m not really talking about places owned by people of color, no. They – especially those who are from or live in these neighborhoods – are chasing down the locations where they’re more likely to make a better profit. And they’re often facing an uphill battle in doing that. But that isn’t always true for non-black white people. They probably never think twice about it.
How can we change this? What do coffeeshops add to a community? What might they take away? If we’re going to really #ReplaceStarbucks then let’s get some new options in black communities to disrupt the convenience of Starbucks and adjacent (pun intended) shops.