Students manage, mingle at Davenport

The non-profit, student-run coffee lounge offers fun, relaxed atmosphere

As one of three supervisors at Davenport, a coffee and study lounge in the School of International Service building, sophomore Michelle Norris works 10 to 15 hours each week stocking shelves with gourmet coffees, doling out biscotti from a big glass jar, and whipping up cappuccinos. Even after her shifts end, she can often be found curled up on one of Davenport's leather sofas. That adds up to a lot of time in a coffee lounge for a girl who's allergic to caffeine.

"I can't even drink coffee. I love the smell of it and that's why I wanted to work there," laughed Norris. "I figured it would be stupid for me to make a pot of coffee to smell it, but if I worked in a coffee shop then I could smell it all the time and it wouldn't be so weird." Norris credits her quirk with helping her get the job by making Randa El-Rashidi, Davenport's former manager, laugh.

El-Rashidi, an AU alumna who now works at the World Bank, volunteered her time supervising the non-profit coffee lounge, but management took a turn.

In late August when most students prepared to move into rooms or buy books for classes, Norris realized that she had a bigger to-do list than she had expected.

"I hadn't heard from [El-Rashidi], and during the summer she'd been in contact with me - we'd gone out to dinner, movies. Then suddenly there was nothing from her," Norris said.

Through e-mails with El-Rashidi she discovered that El-Rashidi had gone to Egypt with the World Bank when she developed a lower back problem. Now staying with family in Egypt, El-Rashidi does not expect to return this semester, said Norris. "Basically she said it's up to us to maintain Davenport," Norris said. "Us" being the staff made up entirely of students.

But if running a coffee shop puts a strain on their schedules, the Davenport workers shy from revealing it.

"The work is so much fun. It's never the same. We're always getting new products in. Customers come in with ideas and information and so we change to accommodate them, so there's something new every day," said Hannah Fuller, another Davenport supervisor and employee of three semesters. Fuller believes Davenport's flexibility appeals to the AU community.

"Davenport changes to people's needs. When you come in you're not going to hear just one type of music. People bring in music from their homes. We have Arabic music, we play rap, we play whatever. It's an environment that fits the needs of the people so it's comfortable for everyone to come in here. And everyone does come in here," Fuller said.

Visitors agree that Davenport's ambience sets it apart.

"I like the atmosphere of it. The couches are nice," said Nicole Webb, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. "I don't like the fact that they don't take EagleBuck$ though, and sometimes it seems too small."

Davenport occupies a space in the SIS building that served as AU's chapel before Kay Spiritual Center was built in 1965. Unfit for classroom use due to its awkward design and poor acoustics, students began to brew and sell coffee in the room, according to Davenport's Web site (www.american.edu/sis/davenport).

Another customer agreed that the space has its downfalls.

"Sometimes it gets really crowded and loud, especially around lunch or dinner time," Loren Bonner said. "[Still,] last year I came almost every day because the coffee is good and it's really cheap." Davenport's 75 cent cup of coffee is hard to match, said Fuller.

"We get the best quality stuff and we make it affordable for students because we're non-profit. Our coffee is far superior to any coffee I've had," Fuller said.

But for those with an aversion to coffee, like Norris, Davenport offers other treats.

"I like the chocolate chip cookies and strawberry Italian sodas, and I know people get angry when we don't have croissants," Norris said. "But personally, I think it's the environment that students like, just as much as the food. It's a comforting place. You can always just go in and chill or curl up in a corner with a book. You don't even have to buy anything. And with the old books and the map and the smell of coffee it's so relaxing." said Norris.

Norris said she tells her friends to visit Davenport whenever they need to "escape the craziness of AU" and she hopes the rest of the AU community follows that advice.

Davenport is open from 8:15 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays.

The Davenport lounge was named for Frederick M. Davenport, the father-in-law of the School of International Service's founding dean, Ernest Griffith. Davenport served as a U.S. congressman from 1925 to 1933 and his family donated the room to AU in his memory.

For more information, call Davenport at (202) 885-1841.

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle