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Café du Monde

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 7, 2023 3:03 am

Café du Monde

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 7, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, we travel to New Orleans to hear the rich story of a world-famous coffee and beignets destination. 

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And we return to our American stories. In the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana, by the way, I got married in that beautiful city, is a long-standing tradition in the form of a coffee shop. If you're familiar with New Orleans, you know, of course, we're talking about Cafe Du Monde. The original Cafe Du Monde was established as a coffee stand in 1862 and has since remained open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the exception of Christmas Day.

Or the occasional hurricane. Here is Emily Yaeger with the story of this famous coffee shop. And this one we're doing on location, so you'll have to be dealing with the sounds and the feel of being in Cafe Du Monde. You know, a lot of people pay some good money to go to a jazz brunch, but you can come here and spend $3.75 and get just as good of an experience, in my opinion. So I guess it's kind of a complicated answer about when I started working here. My mom's grandfather bought the business in 1942, so partly I've been involved since I was born.

Both my parents work here and my brother and my husband now. So I've been around it my whole life. So what we're sitting in right now is formally called the French Market. Before it was the French Market, it was actually a meat market, and a mile of it was all open market. Obviously, it's very warm, so that couldn't last for a while, and the meat market slowly turned into closer to what it is at the end of the French Market building, which is like little stands that people would buy and vegetable, you know, produce, meat, arts, crafts. We have a lot of different cultures kind of welded together here in New Orleans, so it's a lot of different arts and crafts that people sell in the market.

And then they started to, you know, turn into more of like the formal retail stores in like the 1960s. So Cafe du Monde was originally started in 1862, and we were one of the little coffee stands. So Cafe du Monde is French for Coffee of the World, and it was the coffee served in the 1800s, and we've served it since then.

The people that built this building, that's the Spanish, and then the French came shortly after the Spanish, which is why we get those melds of culture here, and the French, specifically the Acadians, brought the beignet over. You know, everybody always asks about our coffee and chicory blend. That blend is due to the World War, so coffee was really hard to ship over, especially the French blend type coffee. And so they started blending chicory, which comes from the root of an endive plant, and they started blending the chicory to add in because it has a similar coffee taste, but it's not coffee. So it's kind of a substitute to give it that coffee taste while kind of halving the coffee, and now it's a lot of people's preference, mine included. People love the coffee chicory taste. So we started with the coffee, and they would have bread served with the coffee.

Coffee in New Orleans is an all-day, everyday thing. We start and end our day with coffee, and so it just kind of turned into the breads and stuff, turned into the beignet when the French brought it over, and now I would say the beignet is the staple of New Orleans. So all of our beignets are handmade, and as soon as they're made, they get fried.

So we never refrigerate or freeze. Everything is made on the spot, and of course it's the only food item that we sell, so we're just constantly making it. That's all we do all day long is make beignets. So the beignets started, I couldn't even give you an exact date. I want to say it was the early 1900s, and it said that coffee and beignets has just become the smart thing to do in New Orleans, and obviously it's a very simple food.

It's fried dough with powdered sugar on top, and I think the environment brings a lot of what makes it great, but also that we hand-make it every day, and it's fresh and hot and comforting. This wasn't probably the best place for business if you had asked somebody back in the 1800s. Before, when the river wasn't managed by engineers and our Corps of Engineers here in New Orleans, a rise and fall of it was pretty steady. So back in the 1800s when they built this building, if you would have told them that this is the epicenter of tourism, they would have probably discouraged that strongly. But with Jackson Square and the cathedral, obviously we have multiple things that are fun to see when you come to New Orleans. I think this is probably what we're best known for, is right in the heart of the French Quarter right here where we are. I feel like we give an atmosphere that's nice to come to.

We take care of our customers. We truly like to see people's first experience with beignets and coffee. We love to see people get their first beignet. It's exciting for us. So I think the magic isn't lost on us and so we're excited and I think it gives an exciting place to come to. Obviously we've put a lot of hard work.

Our family truly cares about the business and all of our employees. So it's been a lot of hard work, but also I think we're very lucky and fortunate that people enjoy coming here and we're able to recover from the many things that do happen in our city that make it hard. We're looked to a lot when everybody closes after a hurricane. When are we opening back up?

When is the city going to get started? And we don't take that responsibility lightly. It means a lot to us.

So I would love to say that we did that solo, but that's definitely not true. It's those guys right there on the street playing music and all these people in here bringing their different parts of themselves. I think New Orleans just makes people feel welcome. We have that culture here that kind of welcomes everybody and that has everything to do with the city itself. We definitely cannot take the credit for that, but we're happy to be a part of it. Because we're only closed on Christmas Day, we become a lot of people's holiday traditions. People come every year for Mardi Gras and they bring that next group of people that's ready to come to the city. Thanksgiving is a huge day for us.

People are in town and they want to bring their family from all over the world and have them come experience beignets. And that's so cool to us. We love seeing that. I think just being here for so long has given us the opportunity to see that. There was a woman who lives here who got displaced after Katrina and came back recently and I was talking to her while she was waiting in line and she was saying that it didn't really feel like she was back home because so much of her neighborhood has changed, so much of her friends and family have moved to other places, but this has been here forever. So she was like, I'm back home, I'm sitting, I'm having my coffee, I'm having my mug, my plate of beignets, she was like, I feel at home. That's such a gift to give somebody, that feeling of being home again. That was definitely a cool experience.

Of course, I love to see the toddlers kicking their feet in the green chairs awaiting the bag of beignets because it always results in just eyebrows, hair, clothes, toes, fingers covered in powdered sugar, and it's adorable. So I love that, but hearing those other stories is special too. So one fun fact about us is not only does our family have a lot of history and a lot of hands in the pot you'd say here, but we also have a lot of families that work alongside our family. We have families that have two and three generations that work together, both here and at some of our branch locations, and they've been with our family.

Some of them over 40 years. So I think having that family atmosphere makes a huge difference. I think it makes for a great place to work, at least I hope it does. Like I said, I used to go to work with my dad and my mom when I was a kid, and I'd help the little duties that nobody wants to do. Now my dad and I sit, our desks are right across from each other. My first cousin sits ten feet from me, and I have six others that work alongside me. It's special to work with family. It's difficult, of course, but I think it's definitely a privilege to work so closely with all the people that love you, along with people who've known you my entire life because I was here as a toddler. We joke, one of the ladies, Ms. Kim, has been here I think over 50 years. So she saw me grow up, and now she sees my son come in here and she's grabbing his cheeks, and so excited, and she picked him up and she was like, you're going to be my boss one day, which is just so funny.

He's three years old. So it's funny to have that kind of environment and work in that kind of environment. But of course, yeah, we would love for our family to be able to continue this wonderful tradition forever. It's been a fun way to grow up. It must indeed have been a great way to grow up. You've been listening to Emily Jaeger. Her family's been running an institution in New Orleans, a cultural institution, a culinary institution, Café du Monde, the original, and it's right across the street from Jackson Square and right in the heart, right in the heart of the French Quarter in one of America's great cities. And again, a special thanks to Emily Jaeger for sharing her family story, the family business, and a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Madison Derricotte.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-07 04:41:01 / 2023-08-07 04:46:35 / 6

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