As the City of New Orleans celebrates its 300th anniversary, there is a French Quarter coffee shop that’s been around for more than half of those three centuries. Café du Monde in the French Market has become a favorite of tourists and locals.
It may seem like Café du Monde, the world famous French Market coffee and beignet shop, has been around forever. And it has - almost. The first coffee was served here in 1862 in the middle of the Civil War.
“And it was literally a coffee stand,” said Jay Roman. “There was no more than a large barrel where people stood around and had their coffee.”
When Café du Monde opened, the French Market was the city’s central shopping place. Vendors were selling everything you needed, from fresh produce to seafood and meat.
Roman’s grandfather, Hubert Fernandez, bought Café du Monde in 1942. His family still owns and operates it.
“When he bought it, it was coffee and beignets, which is basically what it is today,” Roman said. “Beignets are still are only food product, and almost every ethnic heritage has some kind of a form of the beignet. You could have the sopapilla in Mexico, the zeppoli in Italy.”
In the café’s cramped kitchen, the non-stop beignet-making seems tightly choreographed. There is always dough in the mixer. From here, it’s pressed and then cut into squares. Those squares get tossed into the hot grease. There’s no timer, but the cooks seem to know the exact moment to serve up the finished beignets. They get a heavy dusting of powdered sugar. And there’s no telling how many are cooked.
“We don't stop to count,” Roman said. “We're open 24 hours a day, and we make them fresh to order and just never stop. We can go through a ton or more of powdered sugar in a week’s time, that kind of thing.
McNamara: “A ton of powdered sugar?”
Roman: “A ton of powdered sugar, yeah.”
The coffee comes black or café au lait, a 50-50 mix of coffee and whole milk. And the flavor of this coffee has a little more bite to it. It’s coffee and chicory.
“Chicory is the root of the endive plant, the endive lettuce, and it is roasted and ground and mixed with the coffee,” Roman said. “It was brought to New Orleans by the original settlers who were trying to stretch what they had.”
When you see the mix of tourists and locals that pack the tables, the name Café du Monde seems appropriate.
“(It means) coffee of the world or coffee of the people, depending on the translation you hear,” Roman said.
And with the café’s popularity comes a certain responsibility for this family-run business.
“I will tell you that my biggest fear for a long time was ringing my grandmother's door and telling her, ‘Sorry, I screwed up. It didn't work out.’ It was, uh, even though she's gone, I still have the same fear with the other older members of the family,” Roman said.
It’s one thing you can count on, 24 hours a day, 364 days a year. There will always be hot coffee and warm beignets coming out of this historic café.
Café du Monde closes only one day a year, on Christmas.