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Freedom Writer: Taking it outside to Freedom Park

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Freedom Park, Charlotte, NC

I discovered this laptop spot by accident while taking a break from work to enjoy a beautiful spring day. There I was, sprawled out on the grass, savoring my Moe’s naked burrito when I decided just to see if by chance I could get online in Freedom Park.

Photo by Mike D'avria, HelloCharlotte.com

Not only could I get online, but they had their own wireless network! I will say that it was super duper slow, but it allowed me to prolong my cyber splendor in the grass rather than return to the South Charlotte Caribou where I’d set up camp for the week (a great chain find, but that’s for another post). I’m just glad I was fully charged—obviously nowhere to plug in at a park. But you can’t beat the atmosphere: fresh air, no obligatory purchases, blades of grass between your toes while you type. And in my case, a jogger going by periodically singing at the top of her lungs to her iPod. You go, girl!

I lived in Charlotte for five years and had no idea. Does everyone know about this or have I unearthed a remote workers’ best kept secret?

Freedom Park, 1900 East Blvd., Charlotte, NC

West End Bakery

West End Bakery, West Asheville, NC

I was sitting in this very place when I decided that I absolutely had to move to Asheville. And we actually ended up moving a block and a half away from West End Bakery where we lived for a year. I had the good fortune of being in walking distance of this blissful stretch of Haywood Road and all the fair trade, local, organic goodness it has to offer. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Credit: WestEndBakery.com

COFFEE: Like we said, it’s fair-trade, organic, and you can’t get more local than roasters right down the street. Get your mug at the register and choose from two thermoses of regular and one decaf. They also have organic espresso and tea options including some tempting herbal iced tea specials in the summer.

Credit: WestEndBakery.com

FOOD: This is a bakery first and foremost, so any pastry, sandwich or biscuit-based menu item you order is gonna be a winner. They have cinnamon buns the size of frisbees, and a chalkboard listing the many locally sourced ingredients. For a bakery, they’re awfully conscious of the gluten-free customer, and it’s West, so you know there’s plenty of vegetarian options (try the tofu sandwich on their spelt bread — yummm!).

INTERNET: The Wi-Fi is free and flowin’, but my one complaint is that the smaller room toward the back where I prefer to work doesn’t have any outlets. And I only counted a couple of places in the main room to plug in. So be sure to scout before you sit or come fully charged if you plan to stay awhile.

VIBE: This place just says West Asheville to me. It’s a very  neighborhoody, hold-the-door-open-for-the-person-behind-you kind of place where at least one person in earshot will say “No worries.” The last time I was there, a woman two people ahead of me in line was short a couple of dollars. The woman between us handed her some cash to make up the difference. There was the obligatory refusal/insistence dance until the first woman finally, gratefully accepted. I assumed they were at lunch together and that it was a friend paying for another friend’s coffee. Turns out they were total strangers. That’s West End Bakery.

Credit: WestEndBakery.com

GREENERY: What isn’t green here? They compost, they recycle, they support sustainable agriculture, they use 100% organic flour and use organic and local everything else whenever possible (there’s even local soap in the bathroom).

KIDDING: If your child can play nicely in one area (and not climb on tables and crawl behind the counter under the waitstaffs’ feet like mind would), this would be a great place to come with kids if you want to get a little work done outside the house. They have a play area at the front of the bakery with toys and books and comfy chairs so you can keep one eye on your screen and one eye on your little guy. The area is not contained and is right near the front door, so you would need make sure your child stays out of door traffic. Basically he or she has to be able to listen. And if your child does listen to you, please share your secret. I’d love to know how to get my son to do that.

West End Bakery, 757 Haywood Rd, West Asheville, NC, 28806


Pekoe Sip House

Contributed by Brooke Edge, PhD candidate in Media Studies at UC Boulder. Thanks, Brooke!

Pekoe Sip House, Boulder, CO

I’m in the final throes of the first year of a doctoral program, and two months’ worth of back-homework is threatening to crash down on my head. In the interest of holding this mountain of reading at bay, I need a productive work environment. And lots of caffeine.

So it’s amazing that I keep coming back to the Pekoe Sip House rather than a coffee shop where I could mainline the sweet dark roast that keeps me plowing through the work. But Pekoe has just the right table and lighting, so it’s won my hard-working heart.

I live in Boulder, where it’s sunny something like 300 days a year. That’s great for hiking, but a pain for reading on an iPad. All too many coffee shops here have big, lovely windows that flood the place with light. This sucks when you have a reading device that glares big time. But Pekoe has sunny seats in the front, and then a narrow recessed seating area. See that table way in the back? That’s where I like to work. Most of the chatty people hang up front, while the workers tend to move back. It’s nice and quiet and glare-free.

The music choices are usually somewhere along the jam band spectrum, but just a few minutes ago they switched to dance music. That isn’t really my thing, study-wise, but it isn’t openly distracting. And the tea drinks are tasty, and served in actual glasses. Finally, a major perk is that it’s two doors down from my favorite market (the fittingly named Ideal Market), so fresh fruits, sandwiches, and sushi are just feet away.

Ok, time to get back to political economy or whatever I need to ingest before class. Happy cafe working to all!

Pekoe Sip House, 1225 Alpine Ave, Boulder, CO 303.444.5953

Heine Brothers’ Coffee

Heine Brothers’ Coffee, St. Matthews, Louisville, KY

Image Source: HelloLouisville.com

I grew up in Louisville, but the last time I lived here, Wi-Fi was as foreign a concept as going green. So this is a first-impression traveler’s review of the Heine Brothers’ St. Matthews location. I’m sure the trek to Bardstown Road would’ve yielded better results, but my parents live in the east end, so this one was closer. I’ve had friends who still live here tell me that Heine Brothers is by no means the best laptop locale, but if you lived here in the 90s, when you think “coffee shop”, you think Heine Brothers. So when I had to delay my trip back to North Carolina due to icky weather, that’s where I went to get some work done.

COFFEE: Good, but pricey. Although fair trade, organic, locally brewed coffee always comes at a price, right? A 10-oz cup cost $1.80 and refills were $1.00 each. On tap today: Ronda’s Blend (a house blend created in honor of  a former employee). Points for a flavorful brew, demerits for not having more than one regular blend to choose from (always nice to have options).

FOOD: The focus here is definitely on the coffee, and that’s okay. Their sweets selection looked quite tempting and they had some cold sandwiches in the front cooler from a local gourmet grocery, but I didn’t have a sweet tooth and didn’t want to pay $6 for an okay-looking sandwich, so I paid $2 for an okay-looking bagel instead. It tasted how it looked, but that’s also because it was noon and had most likely been sitting there since 6am when they opened.

INTERNET: I don’t know if it was their connection or if it was because I was working on an iPad, but I found it to be rather slow. Outlets were easily accessible and plentiful in the smaller green room (I didn’t check the front room for places to plug in.)

VIBE: Jazzy background music pumps through the main room, where there’s a “store” along the back wall with organic t-shirts, coffee, tea, and even coffee soap for purchase. There’s plenty of seating in both the main room and a smaller back room for those who prefer a little more peace and quiet. Both rooms have colorful murals on the walls. If it hadn’t been pouring down rain, I imagine the deck off the front to be a stong point on sunnier days.

$13.50, hbconlinestore.com

GREENERY:

They recycle but don’t have very visible signs or bins next to the trash cans. A staff member informed me that they usually just sift through the trash for recyclables. Points for dedication! I was, however, disappointed that I was given a disposable cup for my in-house coffee. I saw others with mugs so perhaps it was just an oversight. They also have a house blend called KFTC Mountain Dream from which they donate $5 from every bag purchased to help end mountain top removal mining in the Appalachian region.

Heine Brothers’ St. Matthews is the “perfect on paper” coffee house. The date you should want to take home to meet your parents, and yet there’s just something missing that you can’t put your finger on. Other than a slow Internet connection (which I like to think was an iPad issue—not an iPad fan, but that’s another post) there was nothing wrong with the place. The coffee was tasty, the staff was friendly, they keep it local, they care about the planet. Maybe I’m spoiled by the wonderful cafes in Asheville. Maybe I went to the wrong Heine Brothers. Maybe I was just in a pissy mood because I was stuck using my husband’s iPad instead of my MacBook.

Any Louisvillians out there in love with Heine Brothers? Give us the skinny!

Heine Brothers’ Coffee, 119 Chenoweth Lane, Louisville, KY 40207

Twisted Crepe

Twisted Crepe, Asheville, NC

This restaurant might not stand out as an obvious cafe working locale, but even though they don’t advertise it, they have free Wi-Fi. If I’m downtown and know I want to eat something light and healthy while I work, I go to Twisted Crepe.

credit: Dustin Pulliam

FOOD: I’m starting off with the highlights and moving backward. I strictly come here for the food. I dream about their crepes. They are a crisp, refreshing handheld alternative to bagels and biscuits. I always get The Shorty. Until recently, it was also the best breakfast deal in town: 3 veggies, egg, cheese and choice of sauce for $2.99! You cannot get a decent breakfast in downtown Asheville for less than five dollars (someone please prove me wrong). I even saw a breakfast sandwich on one menu for $7.95…and slowly, quietly backed my way out the door. Unfortunately, this was a gateway price (now $4.99), but it worked. I’m hooked. My budget won’t allow me to visit as often as I did, but Twisted Crepe has quickly made it to the top of my “Treat Yourself” list.

INTERNET: Again, it’s free and I’ve never had connection issues. It’s been awhile since I first logged on there, but either there’s no password or if there is, they’ll give it to you at the counter. You may ask yourself “Isn’t the Internet free everywhere now?” Alas, it is not. I stayed in a really nice hotel in Atlanta (cough) InterContinental Buckhead (cough) for a wedding and had to bring some work along with me. $20 per day to use their Internet, I kid you not. At least it gave me an excuse to not work!

VIBE: This place is too clean and well-lit to have a “vibe”. I’m not saying the atmosphere is bad… it’s just not brimming with personality—kind of like the Gwyneth Paltrow of crepe places. So it’s not the place I go to hunker down and hide out, but they do have a few booths and don’t seem to mind when I take up one just for me. And the owner and staff are all very friendly (and very patient with indecisive orderers like myself).

COFFEE: Now we come to the low point. The coffee is not that great. They serve it from thermoses on a station at the front where you can help yourself. The first time I was there, I thought it might’ve just been a mishap—bad brews happen to good people. But I’ve been there several times and it’s consistently “eh”. Again, I come for the food. I’m willing to swallow a mediocre cup of coffee in exchange for a top notch breakfast.

Twisted Crepe, 62 Haywood St., Asheville, NC, 28801

Photos were taken by owner Dustin Pulliam and “borrowed” from Urbanspoon.

Izzy’s Coffee Den

Izzy’s Coffee Den in Asheville, NC

“Den” is the perfect word to describe this Lexington Avenue coffee spot. It’s dark, cozy, and inviting if you’re not intimidated by the cool, hipster clientele (which I always was… until now).

COFFEE: They brew Counter Culture, one of my favorite brands. And if you drink your coffee there, you get it in a large mug for only $1.25, and 50 cent refills (It’s $1.50 for a 12-oz cup if you grab it to-go). I’ve had their French Roast, which is amazing. But today, I felt adventurous and tried the Ethiopian blend. Not bad, but I’m sticking to what they describe on their menu as “the dark stuff”.

VIBE: Punk music blares from the speakers… everything from Weezer and Lou Reed to other bands that I’m not hip enough to know (as evidenced by my use of the word “hip”). I actually like listening to punk music while I work. I can somehow tune it out and at the same time absorb its energy to help me focus. The local artwork adorning the walls is chaotic with a hint of psychotic. I’m personally drawn to this piece that I can only describe as some sort of deranged rabbit on a bicycle, lovingly titled “Snuggles”:

And I’m always a fan of places that use creative ways to distinguish between the men’s and women’s restrooms:

They advertise live music, but I’m guessing that’s something that goes on later in the evening and I’m  a morning person when it comes to cafe working. You have to appreciate local businesses that support local art and music!

FOOD: The food section on their menu could just as easily be called BAGELS. They keep it simple, selling Brueggers bagels, priced according to shmear: butter, cream cheese or hummus. I prefer my bagels made in-house, but this isn’t a bakery. I’m here for the coffee and computer time and Izzy’s accomplishes those two things quite well.

BEER & WINE: If you prefer more than a caffeine buzz while you work (and really, who doesn’t?) they have a small albeit decent selection of beers, and I believe I saw one wine option.

INTERNET: They post their password on the counter. It’s fast, free and I didn’t have any connection problems.

A couple of years ago, they opened a second location in West Asheville, which I’ve yet to check out, but it’s on my list.

Izzy’s Coffee Den, 74 N Lexington Ave, Asheville NC 28801

Kneaded Pleasures Café & Bakery

Contributed by Kelly Love Johnson, a freelance writer, editor and media consultant in Austin, TX.

Kneaded Pleasures Café & Bakery in Austin, TX.

Even though this isn’t my absolute favorite place for café working, I spend more time here than the other places in Austin because it’s about five minutes (walking distance) away from my house.  Kneaded Pleasures is in a strip mall sandwiched between a CVS and a post office.

When I start to get a little stir-crazy working from home, this is a great place to go and have breakfast (amazing breakfast tacos and they also have good bagels) and get some work done. It opens at 7am and is large, so there’s always an open table. They have a lot of regulars, mostly neighborhood folks, and people are friendly, but polite if it’s clear you’re working face-in-laptop.

The staff is also friendly, even when I’ve complained about the one negative thing…

1.     Rules! They have a strict rule about no computer use at their tables Monday-Friday, 11am-2pm. They turn off their wi-fi and will inform you of their policy if you still have your computer out during these hours, even if they’re not busy. It’s irritating, because sometimes I work there from 8am for breakfast and hate having to stop at 11am if I’m on a roll.

2.     The food. I eat healthy and stick to egg-white omelets or wheat bagels, every now and then indulging in an egg and cheese breakfast taco. I also love their bagel & lox (with red onion, cream cheese, and capers). However, they bake on site and the whole place smells like a bakery—and you have to stand two feet away from a case full of goodies to order. Hard to resist!

3.     Art. They have a huge mural of Town Lake in Austin on one wall, which is nice to look at when I’m trying to come up with the right words.

4.     Caffeine. The coffee is good about 80% of the time, so it’s a little hit or miss. Sometimes it tastes like it was left over from yesterday. If you ask the person taking your order if the coffee is fresh, they always say “yes,” but I’ve brought my cup back more than once and begged to differ.

5.     The staff. Since they’re rarely crowded, there’s always a table with an outlet nearby, the staff is always apologetic about their “no computer use from 11-2” policy, and they never seem bothered that I camp out with my laptop at a table that is supposed to seat four.

There’s always a strong wi-fi connection (except when they turn it off for their “lunch rush”) and I’ve never had connection problems. I also like that, unlike chains like Starbucks, I’m usually one of 2 or 3 people sitting with my laptop (instead of every single table occupied by a café-working writer). Which makes me feel less like a cliché (“Hello, I am clearly writing/a writer and wish that you would watch me do so”).

Definitely recommend for food and service; just not from 11-2 M-F!

Kneaded Pleasures, 3573 Far West Blvd., Austin, TX  78731