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

Happiness is a Choice

Pumpkin spice lattes: Athens style

Love Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Check out the coffee crawl Backdrop magazine did and read about the eclectic varieties three of Athens’ local coffee shops offer. The typical warm, coffee-inspired latte is too mainstream for Athens, see what Donkey Coffee, Fluff Bakery and Court Street Coffee have created instead.




Donkey, Brenen’s, Court St. Coffee jolt java junkies

The hardest decision students must make during their time in college has nothing to do with choosing their major or making career plans. For students who spend hours upon hours of time on campus, the most important decision they will make is where to buy their coffee.

This may sound like an exaggeration, but the truth is that coffee is an integral part of the college experience for many people. Some don’t start drinking coffee until they get to school. Some can’t function without their morning latté. Even tea lovers and pop drinkers can agree that caffeine is what keeps the college engine running smoothly (maybe aside from something along the lines of “hard work and dedication”).

Athens is the perfect college town: a place where people from all different backgrounds can come together to bond over their love of knowledge and coffee. Court Street is home to so many different shops, eateries and personalities. There are a lot of options for where to fill your OU travel mug, but the culture of a coffee shop is much more than just who has the best macchiato. Students and faculty visit these shops to fuel up on caffeine as well as study, eat with friends and colleagues, and attend shows.

Donkey Coffee, Court Street Coffee and Brenen’s are three of the most popular places to enjoy the full coffee shop experience. Each shop has its own personality, a fan club of regulars who will support it over the others, and at least one unique feature to pull people in. The differences between the shops are what make the regulars so loyal to their café of choice.

Megan Geldien, a sophomore, visits Donkey Coffee, 17 W. Washington St., about once a week. She grabs a drink then finds a place to sit and get some work done. She describes the atmosphere at Donkey as “cozy.”

“It’s a good place to focus and have a quiet place to study,” Geldien says. As she studies, Geldien usually sips on a chaider, which is a combination of chai tea and apple cider. The chaider is her favorite drink, but she gets coffee from time to time. “I like getting the coffee here because it’s a local place. They participate in fair trade. It’s an all-around good deal.”

Sitting in Donkey Coffee is a lot like sitting in someone else’s grandmother’s house. Comfy chairs and couches can be found alongside wooden table-and-chair sets that seat two to four people. This is the place you come to for your soy hot chocolate and organic black bean salad. When you get your order “for here” at Donkey, you will receive your snack or beverage in reusable ceramic dishware. Artwork from local artists hangs on nearly every inch of the paneled walls of the shop. In the back lounge, there is a bookcase full of board games. Of all the shops on Court Street, Donkey is possibly the most talked about. Students and faculty rave about the cool vibe and friendly faces found there.

Maddy Stees, a sophomore and self-proclaimed regular at Donkey, says the place has an “organic” vibe. “There’s just no bullshit about it,” Stees says. “It’s got just a really great college-coffee-shop vibe and the people there are just really, really fun and some of the goofiest people I think I’ve ever met.”

At Donkey, you may encounter a barista wearing a kilt, and if it’s not too busy, someone behind the counter will probably be singing. The shop has a way of making its customers feel comfortable, especially when it’s cold and snowing outside and you are tucked in a corner chair by the window, sipping organic herbal tea.

Donkey is known for its open mic nights on Thursdays as well as other performances that are frequently hosted in the back lounge on the first floor, where there is a small stage and a fair amount of sitting room for show-goers. Geldien appreciates these performances, especially the music nights on weekends.

Where Donkey Coffee is inviting and cozy, Brenen’s (38 S. Court St) is classy and perhaps a bit intimidating.

If you’ve never been before, Brenen’s has a way of making the new customer feel out of place. Maybe it’s the green and black color scheme, or the look of the dark wood floors, but there is a very hip feeling about the shop. When you first walk in you might think, “I am not cool enough for this place.” But the people behind the counter will be especially nice to you. If you look lost they will smile. After about the third visit, once you’ve had a chance to sit down and get settled, you will realize that, actually, you fit right in.

Brenen’s doesn’t feature a lot of elbow room during busy hours. The small tables and chairs are narrowly distanced in a food-court-style setup, and although there is not a lot of space to work with, high ceilings and large glass windows give the shop an airy, open feel.  Several large menu boards advertise various specialty drinks and, at the back counter, food options. On an average day, you will find people stationed in front of their Macbooks, headphones in, clearly focused. Some small groups of about two or three will be chatting over soup and sandwiches. The place has a classy feeling, like the cool coffee shop you might see in a movie. And even if you find the buzz of the place too distracting to study, you may still want to stop by for the best hot chocolate you’ll ever taste.

Erin Belka, a junior, visited Brenen’s one afternoon to meet with a friend for lunch. She was drinking from a Court Street Coffee cup. “I went to Court Street before class [because] it’s close to Copeland,” Belka said. She and her friend agreed to have lunch at Brenen’s because of the soup and sandwiches served there, and Belka hadn’t finished her morning coffee before arriving. But she said she comes to Brenen’s every once in a while, and she does like their coffee. She even brought her parents to Brenen’s for lunch during Parents Weekend one year. “A lot of professors recommend it,” she said.

There is definitely a belief that Brenen’s is the professor’s coffee shop. Nick Paumgaertel, a Brenen’s employee, said the customers actually are about “half and half” (professors-students). “But compared to other places to eat, I see more professors and faculty here. I think it’s ‘cuz the owner is friends with a lot of them.”

According to Paumgaertel and a lot of OU students, the coffee isn’t really what draws people to Brenen’s. A lot of people come for the food. Kate Blyth, a regular customer and student, said the reason she chose Brenen’s was because, on that particular day, they had potato soup, “and they have free WiFi.” Of course, Donkey offers free WiFi as well — it just wouldn’t feel like a coffee shop if it didn’t.

With food as the focus, Brenen’s is a bit different than the average coffee shop. If the cozy-coffee-nook vibe is what you’re after, Court Street Coffee (67 S Court St.) is more your speed.

Michelle Frantz visits Court Street Coffee an average of once a week. “I love Court Street because I’ve never tried a drink from there that I don’t like,” Frantz says. The Mayan Mocha, which is like a regular mocha but with cinnamon and almond flavors, is her favorite beverage, hot or frozen. “They have a lot of options, especially with drinks that have more unique flavors than the average cup of coffee.”

The Mayan Mocha may be one of the most noteworthy beverages served at Court Street but it is not even advertised on the shop’s menu. The neat list of beverage options posted on the store’s website is identical to the one hanging on the wall behind the short, crowded countertop inside. This list is simple, and not all-inclusive. But some of the most creative beverages one could order from this small café are not posted on the menu. Instead, large posters featuring each beverage and the unique flavor combinations manifested within them are posted all around the shop. Some of these posters hang on the wall in sleek glass frames like movie ads and others decorate the base of the main counter, much like wallpaper.

Court Street Coffee is one of the smallest coffee shops on Court Street, located across the street from Chubb Hall and next door to Copeland Hall, home to the College of Business. Coffee-lovers who spend a lot of their time in Copeland stop in to Court Street to grab something classic like iced coffee or a fancy specialty like the Red Velvet latté. There is not a lot of seating in the little shop. About five tables in the aisle at the back of the store can seat somewhere around 10 people, then there’s a couch and some soft chairs in the front of the store, a high counter with bar stools on one wall, and three more tables to the left of the main counter. There are a couple seats just outside the building for those days with nice weather. If about 30 people go to study in Court Street Coffee, there will not be room for anyone else to sit. For this reason, some find that Court Street is the best place to study.

Lizzy Knapp, a senior, likes to come to Court Street to study if she can score one specific little table in a corner of the shop. The corner table is behind a wall so she can’t see anyone in the main part of the shop; it’s not completely isolated, but still closed off enough so that she feels productive. Knapp prefers the atmosphere of Court Street to other coffee shops. “It doesn’t feel super crowded, or like there’s too much going on on the walls that I could get distracted [by],” she says. Also, “the WiFi is better here.”

If you can find a place to sit, Court Street is warm and welcoming. The atmosphere is calm enough, even during the rushes, that you can focus on your work. If you have a big exam coming up and need a change of scenery from the library or your dorm room, something about the vibe at Court Street is super motivating. Perhaps it’s the orange walls or the sound of the espresso machine, which is never more than a few steps away.

Probably due to the limited seating options, a lot of people sweep through Court Street on an average day, but most grab their drink and leave. Something about the shop, though, keeps the same people coming back. For some, it’s the location — near College Green, next to Copeland, across from Chubb. For others, it’s the quality beverage that they can’t get enough of, or perhaps the new specialty they’d like to try.

Lindsey Cohagan, a senior and regular of Court Street Coffee, has never been to Donkey. “People think Donkey is the best atmosphere,” she says. “I like sitting here.” Cohagan says she prefers to get her coffee from Fluff, which is closer to the end of Court Street, but she visits Court Street Coffee regularly for her vanilla latté, “mostly ’cuz it’s next to Copeland and I’m always in Copeland.” Like Knapp, Cohagan also has a favorite seat in the shop: one of the small tables along the wall in the very back of the shop. Since it’s located in the back, in a hallway behind the main counter, she doesn’t think a lot of people even know the seats are there. The table is big enough to sit only two people, or one student with a lot of books.

Of all the places to get coffee uptown, Court Street is the least likely to disappoint. They have so many different beverage options, from fancy mochas to sweet smoothies. If you want to try something unique one morning, or are just looking for a quick stop on your way to class, Court Street is the place to go. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you like, there is definitely something on the menu for you. And, like Frantz, you might find that you like just about everything they serve, on and off the menu.


Here are wholesome alternatives to that hangover

It’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning. College students at Ohio University are sluggish and rolling around in bed. The only thing on their agenda is to get through the McDonald’s drive-through before breakfast is over.

Last night’s wild and outrageous antics are the only topic of conversation for the majority of the day. Happy hour at the bar is the only thing that will revive them from this inactive state. But while these students are allowing a terrible hangover to dominate their Saturday, some students are seizing the day.

The girl who lives next door to these crazy college students woke up at 8 a.m. to make her regular hot yoga class. After, she grabbed a smoothie from a local natural food market. The rest of her day was very productive because of the union she created with her mind, body, and soul.

Students who live this lifestyle in the fast-paced community of Athens often forget to focus on themselves and to keep centered mentally and physically. There are many businesses on Court Street and in Athens that can give students a more wholesome way to live.

Gathering one’s physical self in a calming way can be achieved in a lot of different ways. For example, Court Street boasts Inhale Yoga at 60 S. Court St., a yoga studio located right on the bricks and actually the only one in town.

Yoga is a physical practice that unites the body and mind through breathing and physical poses. This yoga studio offers classes, workshops, and retreats to students and residents of Athens. They also offer training programs for aspiring yoga instructors and myriad yoga classes, and even have children’s and prenatal classes.

“We offer something in the eclectic town of Athens that is very necessary, actually, in a community, which is health and wellness,” said Kristen Wade, a yoga instructor at Inhale Yoga. “There’s a whole community here for you that is very likeminded that you see time and time again. We would like to think of our studio as a gathering place. You can do yoga at home, but here there’s a group of people to support you,”

Inhale not only offers wellness through the mind and body, they also give back to the Athens community. They raise money for My Sister’s Place, a domestic violence agency serving Athens. They also participate in food drives and have a Christmas tree setup for Athens County Children’s Services. Their work within the community reflects their purpose of uniting mindfulness within physical activity.

“With yoga it’s a full mind body connection. You’re not just performing an action like mindlessly running on the treadmill or doing something only for the benefit of your body. You’re focusing on your breath and how your mind is doing. Yoga is not just a physical practice; it is a mindfulness practice,” Wade said.

Inhale offers many different pass options and packages to suit the inner yogi. One single class is $12, and there is a 10-class pass for $100. There are other options, too.

Though it is not typical for a student to participate in yoga on a regular basis while in Athens, Riley Carpenter, a sophomore at OU, partakes in holistic living and the practice of yoga on her own and at Inhale to create an effective, balanced, and centered lifestyle.

“I just really wanted to make time for myself and find other ways to create balance and new ways to stay healthy,” Carpenter said.

She originally began practicing holistic healing the summer after her freshman year of high school to help combat health issues that medication would not fix. She used homeopathic remedies and other natural medicines to boost her health, and the use of those different solutions led her in to learning and practicing yoga. The combination of yoga and holistic living has changed her outlook on life. Instead of looking at a problem for what it is, she looks at it as a bigger issue. If she is feeling stressed, she practices yoga breathing and meditating, and if she is feeling congested, she’ll take a shot of whiskey to clear everything up instead of taking Advil.

“It’s crazy how much that shot can clear you up! I’d rather use a remedy like that than take something artificial,” Carpenter said.

Last year, she started a yoga club at Ohio University so she could spread the benefits of yoga to students. She instructs her own yoga classes and has received her 200-hour certificate in yoga, she also takes classes regularly at Inhale. Students can email her with questions about her club and practice.

There are many different types of yoga one can practice. One of the most popular is hot yoga, Vinyasa, which is Carpenter’s favorite. This practice focuses on coordination of breath and movement and is also a physically active form of yoga. However, there are almost 20 different forms of yoga that vary from simple mediation to forms that are physically demanding. There are also some forms of yoga that help with healing from surgery or help with spiritual blockages.

Carpenter practices yoga two to three times a week and tries to make it to one class at Inhale during the week as well. She practices yoga breathing before bed every night — which is basically the process of inhaling and exhaling through the nose, filling and emptying the lungs completely. She also is in the process of learning a variety of handstand variations to add to her yoga practice. These are the more difficult poses to attain. These challenging poses require a lot of patience and practice and usually are instructed at the end of a yoga class. The goal when achieving these poses is to practice normal breathing and continue the normal yoga flow that was present the entire session.

Not only is the physical side of wholesome living in Athens something important for students, but so is what they put in their bodies.

Chipotle, Jimmy John’s, Wings Over, and Brenen’s are all examples of the quick eating on Court Street that students use as a fill to get through their day. These options may seem fine at the time, however, they are not among the healthiest choices. The fluorides (chemical ion) contained in these foods are very high since these foods are so processed. The more fluorides present in foods, the more processed the foods are. Of course, the more processed foods are, the unhealthier the food is.

Since time is of the essence, using fresh ingredients and cooking generally aren’t at the top of an OU student’s list, but the incredible health benefits can aid the mind, body, and soul.

The Farmacy, an independent natural food market a short distance from Court Street, at 28 W. Stimson Ave., sells ethnic, vegetarian, organic, and special-dietary-needs food.

“What you put in your body is so important,” said Jen Wagner, an employee at the Farmacy. “I’ve always strived to be as healthy as I can be. We strive to keep our products [at the Farmacy] to be natural as possible. Flourides are terrible for your brain.”

The Farmacy was established in 1971 as a place to buy hard-to-find items like brown rice, oats, dried fruits, and nuts. Today it has flourished into a full-service natural food market.

Along with serving natural foods to Athens, The Farmacy also has a café and sells natural beauty products along with herbs, vitamins, and supplements. It uses two main wholesalers, Tree of Life and United Natural Foods Inc. Farmacy also gets fresher foods like produce from local, smaller brands and food auctions.

“My personal favorite smoothie from the café is the spirulina smoothie, which is an algae smoothie. The health benefits in algae outweigh even spinach and kale,” Wagner said.

They also supply muffins and sandwiches to Court Street Coffee, a local coffee shop at 67 S. Court St. Students can have their coffee and eat Farmacy too!

“We really want to expand the herb section of our store and move some things around so we can make that area a lot bigger. Herbs are very underrated and we want to make this change so people can be more aware of their benefits,” Wagner said.

Herbs actually provide many health benefits. They help protect against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. One might not think about herbs when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but they really can help the body.

Escaping from the normal college town health habits is quite the task. Taking Chipotle runs and the occasional McDonald’s hangover fix out of the routine can be a challenge. However, it is not impossible! There options in Athens that allow for a wholesome lifestyle  in a convenient way. Take one week to make this change. Take a yoga class or pick up some fresh ingredients and cook something on your own. Living healthy will help your mental health, which is vital to have as a college student. See what happens just after one week, and it might become a change that lasts a lifetime.


Michelle Sebastian is a junior at Ohio University majoring in strategic communications at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She is a social media junkie and hopes for a career in the industry one day. She enjoys coming up with clever Instagram captions and drinking iced coffee. In her spare time she can be found practicing yoga and reading Man Repeller blog.