Rise and grind: Meet the night owls of Athens who make late night cram sessions possible

Pulling your first all nighter is a right of passage for college students. From the copious amount of energy drinks you consume, to the way your eyes seem to melt into the back of their sockets, to discovering that your laptop totally makes a great pillow after 4 a.m.  Nothing screams college more than busting out an eight page research paper in the back of a coffee shop while the rest of the world catches some Z’s.

Economics senior Mari Otero looks over her Econ notes shortly after 2 a.m. at Union Street Diner

But what about the people who support those late nights? Someone has to make that triple espresso that you have IV’d to your arm, and play the latest acoustic jams that mellow out the early morning.

We hate to see them but we love their work. Their presence not only signals third shift is about to begin, but also the realization that you probably shouldn’t have procrastinated so much on your projects. They’re the brave men and women who make it possible for you to pump out a semester’s worth of work in a single night. Whether you need some early morning fuel or a late night pick me up, they have your back. They’re the early risers and night owls who work in the coffee shops and diners in town.

At Ohio University,  three local spots are known by everyone. Donkey Coffee at 17 1/2 W. Washington St., Brenen’s Coffee Cafe at 38 S. Court St. and Union Street Diner at 70 W. Union St. have been servicing the Athens crowd for 13, 16 and five years respectively. Customers are guaranteed to always be greeted by a smiling face, even if their own face isn’t so lively.

Brenen’s Coffee Cafe

Brenen’s was founded in 2000 and has been a huge hit ever since. Pittsburgh native Erin Pogue, a senior studying strategic communications, has been working at the cafe since fall 2013, her freshman year. Pogue works a varying schedule of opening and closing shifts but definitely prefers to open.

“I think the best part about an opening shift is how calm Athens is at that time,” she said. “It’s usually before most other students are getting their days started so you can really notice how peaceful Court Street can be walking into work.”

Beautiful scenery aside, getting in at 6 a.m. throughout the week for work still isn’t a fun time. When asked about the downside of opening, Pogue commented:

“The worst part is definitely waking up. Luckily, working at a coffee shop makes it easy to get some caffeine in me once I get in.”

There are some saving graces that come with the sunrise shift though. Pogue says she loves seeing the regulars who come through every morning, along with her coworkers.

“We have a great staff working at Brenen’s. It makes a big difference when you have a great team working with you and keeping things running smoothly when you work together. Going into work is always easier when you get to work with friends and have a lot of fun while getting the job done.”

When asked if she’s ever witnessed anything weird or noteworthy during her closing shift, Pogue had one oh-so-Athens story.

Erin Pogue preps the coffee machines
Erin Pogue preps coffee machines during a slow period during her shift

“You never know what you’re going to get when you have a closing shift on a busy weekend,” she said. “A guy came in off Court Street in a falling-apart costume, couldn’t manage to form full sentences when trying to tell us his order, then grabbed a baguette off the counter and ran out before we even had time to finish his sandwich. Luckily he had already paid!”

It’s like Bobcats say, “Athens happens.”

Donkey Coffee and Espresso

Six hundred and sixty three feet down the street and around the corner, just off the intersection of Court Street and East State is another Athens favorite, Donkey Coffee and Espresso. Open since 2003 and ran by Chris and Angie Pyle, Donkey has successfully been serving the locals “caffeine with a conscience” and has a long history of giving the town a space to be creative.

Moira Snuffer, a sculpture and expanded practice senior from Columbus, has been working at Donkey since June 2015.  She mainly works the opening shift, which means crawling out of bed and getting into the shop by 6:30 a.m.

Moira Snuffer, opening Donkey Barista, is all smiles, even at 7 a.m.
Moira Snuffer, opening Donkey barista. All smiles, even at 7 a.m.

Her favorite part about opening is getting a chance to just be by herself and start the day at her own pace.

“Opening is kinda nice because you’re by yourself and it’s this time to have your space,” Snuffer said. “It’s a nice way to start your day—to be here by yourself and do monotonous work.”

While nothing too crazy has ever happened during her closing shifts, she did have a story about an unexpected interaction this year on halloween:

Union Street Diner

Then there’s Union Street Diner, the go-to spot for anyone suffering from the late night munchies. The 24 hour mom and pop storefront has been in business since 2011 and caters to all walks of life, offering spacious seating, fair prices and friendly faces every hour of the day.

USD has personally reenergized me on multiple occasions (the BLT and pancakes are tier 1) and any place that offers milkshakes at 5 a.m. deserves a head nod.

My last visit to the diner introduced me to Ashley. Ashley has officially been working at Union Street Diner since August of this year, and strictly works third shift. Though working so late can be brutal, the shift time actually fits her overall schedule perfectly. Ashley and her husband are parents to a beautiful two-year-old so the odd times lets both of them work without the need of a babysitter. In regards to her coworkers, she loves them.

“We’re all very laid back. It’s a family here” she said.

While Ashley never went to college, she did become a certified nursing assistant when she was a junior in high school. When it comes to the few things she doesn’t enjoy about her job, Ashley simply can’t stand when students come in and vomit.

You can’t win them all.

Third year computer science major Justin Mosley takes a break from studying for his software tools exam
Third year computer science major Justin Mosley takes a break from studying for his software tools exam

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