I first went to the café near my office a few years back, with the woman who was soon to become my officemate and sanity-saver. It is appropriate that I also have her to thank for introducing me to this fabulous place. The café is near the water, in a small neighborhood that has a completely different feel from the busier section of town where we spend most of our workday.
The café itself has a good amount of seating in the form of mismatched tables and chairs in styles that range from 50’s Modern Diner to Victorian Tea Room. The walls are covered with paintings and photographs from local artists, all for sale. Because of this, the décor varies from time to time as pieces are sold and replaced with new ones. There are piles of the local free papers, a bulletin board for community notices and ads, plants, a menu written on chalkboards behind the counter, and a rack with selections of artisan breads from a local famous bakery for taking home.
Over the last few years, the café has become the place where the two other women who make up our management team and I have our weekly supervisory meetings. It is away from the office so we are less likely to be interrupted, there is ample space for spreading out paperwork, and in the warmer months there is outdoor seating that makes our meeting feel like a mini-vacation from work. The people at the café never rush us out, and over the years have come to expect us on Tuesday afternoons, with some surprise visits in between when we are able to sneak away. They’ve seen us strategize about ways to avoid layoffs, and through the process of selecting new hires when we have been able to expand. They saw me through my pregnancy, and met my son when I brought him there for lunch with my workmates during my maternity leave. They saw my workmates through their pregnancies, and today met their new daughters when we had lunch together.
Lest you think that the food is secondary to the atmosphere, it is not. Think interesting combinations of high quality meats and other sandwich fillings on artisan breads, decadent paninis, satisfying homemade soups, some light middle eastern fare, and amazing macaroons and other sweet treats. The regular order for our group right now is a grilled cheese panini with tomato and bacon with a side of soup (clam chowder if it happens to be a Friday) and iced teas with lemon. The people at the café know our orders before we even step up to the counter.
This café is my third place. Not in the manipulative, intentional way of a Starbucks or a Panera, but in the organic way that a place with a comfortable atmosphere and good food pulls you back over and over again. I often see the same customers there when I go, so the appeal seems to be pretty universal. I know the people that work there by name, and they know our names as well.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m on my own at work these days while my two regular lunch companions are on maternity leave. Today, they brought their new baby girls to meet me at the café. I haven’t had much (any) time to go to the café since they have been out, so walking in the door and smelling the coffee and the panini press while seeing my two closest work friends, relaxed and happy with their warm little bundles on their laps, just about brought tears to my eyes.
Work talk was brief but restorative, mama talk was plentiful, the paninis were delicious as always, and I even got a newborn fix in while I held babies so their mothers could eat more easily. The people at the café were appropriately admiring of the new additions to our group, and as always didn’t rush us out. It was exactly what I needed in the middle of the week.
So, Fabulous Thing #48: Reconnecting.