Experience all that historic Algiers Point has to offer at the Shotgun House Tour this Saturday, May 12!
At Congregation Coffee, the mix of old and new is so seamless that it is hard to believe the neighborhood hotspot has only been operational for a year. Co-owners Ian Barrilleaux and Eliot Guthrie opened Congregation Coffee in March of 2017, and it has quickly become Algiers Point’s quintessential neighborhood coffee shop, and its not just the locals that are taking notice. Among the growing list of accolades being bestowed upon the fledging coffee roaster is Food & Wine magazine’s 2018 title of the “Best Coffee in Louisiana.”
The duo first visited the building that their business now occupies several years ago while “playing tourist” in Algiers Point, taking the ferry across the river from Canal Street to explore New Orleans’ second oldest neighborhood. Guthrie remembers visiting 240 Pelican Ave. when it was a record store, and was captivated by the space’s historic character and natural light.
The building likely dates to the late-19th century, and historically served the neighborhood as a corner grocery store. The name of the grocer — Lafitte’s — can still be seen in the sidewalk tiles in front. One of the building’s former tenants brought Guthrie and Barrilleaux a historical photo of the grocery, which they now display in the shop.
Barrilleaux and Guthrie met four years ago while working at Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District. They instantly clicked over their mutual interest in coffee, and began experimenting with different roasts out of Guthrie’s home. As their roasting experiment started to grow into a full-time operation, they began searching for a space to open their new business, initially looking at high-foot-traffic areas on the east bank. When nothing fit the bill after their extensive search, they were almost ready to settle on a warehouse outside the city. Thankfully, a late night on-line search for local real estate serendipitously brought them to the former record store they had been drawn to years before. Guthrie quickly called the landlord after seeing the advertisement, and they moved in shortly afterwards.
The storefront was remodeled with the aid of Guthrie’s father, who stayed with him for three months to help renovate the space. “It was a good father-son project,” said Guthrie. “He’s 70 and has been building houses since he was 20, so he has about as much experience as any working person can have.”
Sheetrock had to be installed over the original tongue-and-groove ceiling for fire-resistance rating purposes, but the original tongue-and-groove walls still bring historic character to the space — in addition to decorative turned wood columns, colored-glass transoms and historic doors. “We tried to keep as much of the building as we could in place,” said Guthrie. Where a new wall and door were installed, special care was taken to match already existing trim. Guthrie and his father even drew inspiration from the wooden benches of New Orleans’ iconic streetcars to create custom-built window seating near the entrance of the coffee shop.
They initially kept the shop’s seating to a minimum, thinking that the space would primarily function as a showroom and production area for coffee roasting. As the shop’s popularity grew and more neighbors visited and stayed to chat with friends over coffee, Guthrie and Barrilleaux realized the need for more seating. They recently installed new bar seating along the walls and consolidated their production space to the back of the shop to make room for more tables and chairs at the front.
Guthrie believes they have filled a niche in the neighborhood as a “coffee-focused shop and a casual hangout.” With Congregation Coffee’s growing popularity, the additional seating will be a draw for both locals and tourists alike.
Congregation Coffee · 240 Pelican Ave, Historic Algiers Point · Map It!
7am – 5pm · 7 days a week
Photos by Liz Jurey & Davis Allen