Illustration by Bob Scott
Walk into a Richmond coffee shop on a weekday and you’ll find most of the real estate occupied by people hunkered over their laptops or conducting business meetings. While looking for a table, have you ever muttered under your breath, “Why aren’t they in their offices?”
The short answer is: They don’t have to be. Most of these folks are entrepreneurs or freelancers, and if they want to work in their quiet home office one day and a busy coffee shop the next, they do.
“Sometimes if I’m having a really productive day, working among a lot of people is like the icing on top,” says Brian Beard, who owns River City Food Tours. He’s just one of the city’s many remote workers who set up shop in spots such as Café Zata in Forest Hill, Lift Coffee Shop & Café downtown, Shore Dog Café in Tuckahoe, Perk! Coffee + Lunchbox in Bon Air and Stir Crazy Café in Bellevue. Beard often works and meets his interns at 10 Italian Café, not just because it’s a stop on his Carytown food tour, but because he loves the people and the snacks.
Coffee shops also provide stimuli these solitary workers don’t get at home. “I like the change of scenery. It doesn’t get boring,” says small business marketing consultant Alan Brymer, who works remotely three or four times a week. One of the stimuli for him is, perhaps surprisingly, the noise: Brymer says the low din at Sugar + Twine actually helps him concentrate. But he draws the line at phone calls, listening to them or making them: “You don’t want to be ‘that guy.’”
Working practically elbow-to-elbow with people can also be good for business. “I listen to other people’s conversations,” admits Avian Mills, who owns professional organizing business Closets & Kids. “That helps me get into a conversation with them.” Mills is partial to Urban Farmhouse in Scotts Addition, because it’s “so homey.” She even works there on Sundays, sometimes curled up on the couch.
And let’s not forget the coffee. “It’s much better than what I make at home,” says Brymer, who indulges in someone else’s brew several times a week. Mills agrees. In fact, she’s there so often that she laughs the Urban Farmhouse baristas have concocted a special cappuccino with vanilla, caramel and extra milk just for her: “They really should put it on the menu.”