“It beats Starbucks,” said senior Nicky Barnett as she purchased a cup of coffee from the cart in front of Kogan Plaza – now run entirely by students.
Simone Freeman, a sophomore, bought the cart a month ago from its former owner, Naceur Negra, who decided to leave the trade after 15 years of operating Espresso and More. She has since changed the name to Sol Café.
Freeman, who is also a Hatchet photographer, said her decision to acquire the enterprise was fairly spontaneous. As one of Negra’s former student employees, she jumped at the chance to buy it when he somewhat jokingly offered it to her.
“I was upset that he wanted to sell his place, and he said, ‘Well, do you want to buy it?’ And I said ‘Yes.’ “
Despite having no business background, Freeman, a double major in international affairs and anthropology, has high aspirations. She currently employs four baristas, four bakers and a financial manager – all GW students. Having attracted several investors, she is now developing several ideas to grow the budding venture.
Transforming the atmosphere is a top priority, she said. New fabrics already drape the cart and world music blares from the inside, creating an exotic air. Paying attention to detail, Freeman has hired a student to design a new banner and cup logo. The long-term goal, she said, is for Sol Café to become a venue for students to relax and grab a drink between classes – a coffee club of sorts.
Prices will stay the same as before, but the menu will be changing. With the help of Dean’s Beans, a vendor specializing in fair trade coffee, Sol Café soon plans to offer a different international flavor each week. For Freeman, this is key to encouraging a more sociable environment.
“It creates an oasis on campus where kids can hang out and learn the different coffee cultures of the world,” she said.
Freshman Alisa La, a barista, said she is happy to be a part of the vibe. Apart from enjoying Sol Café’s personable character, she is glad to be providing quality coffee and finds that people tend to be very appreciative of the niche the cart fills.
“Whenever people find out about it, they think the idea of a student-run cart is really cool,” La said.
The biggest question yet to be resolved concerns methods of payment. Students have not been able to pay with GWorld at the cart since December 2004, when the University revoked Negra’s ability to accept the card. Now Freeman is mounting a campaign to bring GWorld back, an arduous but necessary effort, she said.
“You need a petition of 2,000 signatures, and it’s very complicated,” she said. But at the same time, she said the fight is well worth it since many students do not carry cash.
In the meantime, she continues to focus on fostering an easygoing mood around Sol Café – and not just out of caprice either. After transferring from the University of Wisconsin, she noticed the grassy hills and social spots that dotted her former campus were lacking at GW. Now she aims to bring a piece of that to Foggy Bottom.