Nestled at 4224 Fessenden Street, Coffee Nature has long been one of the hidden gems of Tenleytown. The neighborhood business has been locally owned by Joseph Oh and his family since 2012, and a variety of high school and college students from around D.C. work there part-time. The menu features classic coffee drinks and specialty sandwiches, as well as Korean dishes and smoothies.
Only a few blocks away from GDS, this café is a familiar location frequented by virtually every student. But the relationship between the school and the store runs beyond the Friday lunchtime rush.
Senior Shonali Palacios doesn’t only frequent Coffee Nature for snacks; she also works there part-time. She described some of her experiences and reasons for taking on the job.
“It’s always somewhere that I really liked. I live in the area, so it’s pretty close to my house,” Palacios explained. “I think the food’s pretty good. I think it also helps that I recognize about 40% of the people there.”
Sophomore Marleigh Ausbrooks is one of the many students who often venture out to Coffee Nature. Fond of their bagels and acai plus smoothies, Ausbrooks describes it as “a nice calm, zen kind of place.”
“It has a nice vibe and a good aesthetic,” she said.
Both students described the benefits of eating at a local coffee shop, as opposed to larger chains in the area such as Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.
“It’s nice to know that your money is going to a good person,” Palacios explained.
Ausbrooks agrees in the importance of supporting family businesses.
“So sometimes I do make the conscious decision to go there. Family, local, as opposed to corporate, big chains,” Ausbrooks said.
Unbeknownst to many GDS students, Joseph Oh and the staff at Coffee Nature actually go out of their way to support GDS in return. According to Palacios, “there are actually special procedures for GDS students to make sure their food gets out fast enough for them to get back to class.”
Oh himself says he has an almost familial relationship with the GDS student body. Oh often friends students on Facebook, wishes them happy birthday on their timelines and greets students by name as they enter his store.
“When I first started I think it was more like friends, like seeing friends every single day,” Oh said. “I feel like now it’s more like taking care of my GDS students, I’m getting old being like an uncle and trying to take care of them.”
This year, GDS’s construction of the new lower middle school blocks the old Safeway parking lot, which was once a quick shortcut to Coffee Nature, and the flow between the school and the store isn’t as heavy as it once was.
“It’s kind of different this year,” Ausbrooks said. “I’m so sad; it’s the one thing I really hate about the construction. You can’t go right through!”