More than 10 years ago, Naceur Negra noticed a shortage of good coffee in Washington. A native of Tunisia, where coffee and tea are rich and flavorful elements of society, Negra said he knew something was missing when one could only find good coffee at hotels and restaurants, where it would just “sit on top of a warmer for three hours and not be good at all.” Nor was 7-11 a feasible alternative to this predicament. He said the only place where someone could obtain a decent coffee was Bread & Chocolate, an eatery near Washington Circle.
This lack of choice spurred Negra, who immigrated to the United States in 1989, to acquire a D.C. vendor license in 1994 so that he could start his own business. Ever since, he has remained a mainstay of the GW community, selling his original coffee, cider, iced tea and lemonade (among other items) every weekday from seven in the morning to ten at night from his coffee cart, “Espresso & More,” located just outside of Kogan Plaza near Gelman Library.
Negra said he enjoys being part of the GW community. He has never sold coffee at a different location and even sticks around during the summer months when his sales drop about 5 to 7 percent. To save money and energy, Negra puts a solar panel, which he constructed himself, on top of his cart. The panel supplies enough energy to run his espresso machine and the refrigerator.
As a coffee devotee, he said he recognizes the impact that the drink has on those with active minds and busy schedules. Sometimes one can hear music blasting from his tiny cart framed with shelves of croissants, muffins and other pastries. Usually when the music is on, that means it is one of his student employees that is brewing coffee and pouring shots of espresso. Negra said he employs a workforce of about three to four students, whom he praises as invaluable assets.
Although Negra said he enjoys being part of the GW community and serving the faculty and students who make up most of his customer base, he has had his problems with GW. In December 2004, his ability to accept GWorld was revoked for the first time since he arrived. Negra said he was suspicious that this happened at the same time that construction on the Gelman Starbucks, which accepts GW, was being completed. As his business reaped significant contributions from GWorld payments, he said he feels that it has been unduly harmed as a result of the change.
“This is discrimination,” Negra said. “Eliminating one business to make room for another is not fair.”
He said the University “should be neutral” with regards to the competition that exists between his coffee cart and Starbucks and is confident that lost business would be restored if GWorld were reinstituted as a form of payment.
Despite the hardships, Negra said he plans to stay on GW’s campus for the long haul. He said he is a fan of variety and opposed “to the idea of everyone selling the same thing.” So to compete with Starbucks he has added a larger variety of drinks and pastries to his menu over the last two years. He has a seasonal drink called a caramel-apple latte that sells for just over $3 as well as selling coffee for a buck and lattés for $2.
Choice has always been important for Negra ever since he noticed that none existed in the world of coffee in D.C. prior to his arrival at Kogan Plaza. He has even set up a Web site, www.nasers-coffee-place.com, where one can learn more about products offered.
As for the problems that he has recently encountered, Negra plans to try to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner. He anticipates a meeting with University President Steven Knapp at some point in the near future to review the current policy and to try to improve the situation. Above all, he is happy being a coffee vendor for GW students.
“It keeps them studying and keeps them awake,” Negra said.