When people mention Clarkston, the most diverse suburb of Atlanta, one of the first places they mention is Refuge Coffee. The popular coffee spot is a social enterprise training refugees who operate their main shop in the center of Clarkston, and a mobile trucks that sell elsewhere. I can vouch for their chai latte being delicious, and there’s plenty of other teas and coffee on the menu as well. But before we get to the review, let’s talk about their mission, which is to get customers to pause from their busy lives to ponder how they can be more welcoming to refugees.
The reality of life for refugees is one of struggle. Even if they can get resettled from a country in turmoil, to one relatively peaceful, they still have so many obstacles to overcome. For starters they usually have little time to become self sufficient. The average is around three months of starter funding before they need navigate enough English language to be gainfully employed, supporting themselves, and paying back the loans they had to take to cover traveling to the US. This is not to mention any of the social challenges that come along with being different in a new place, a country where people speaking foreign languages in public, may risk being harassed by racists.
If they can manage to find a job, they’re almost immediately removed from any SNAP benefits (aka food stamps), or other assistance. If they have a case worker from a local organization, that person is usually overworked, and underpaid. Despite what we may think of immigrants, the reality is they don’t get much of a welcome, nor much of a transition period to learn how to succeed. In review, newcomers to the United States are asked to hold down a job, get their kids excelling in school, find affordable housing, stay out of trouble, and pay back loans. Shit, that’s more than many Americans born and raised here can do successfully in a decade or more!
So I’m here for the #createrefuge theme of Refuge Coffee. Living wages are a sore topic for all Americans, not just traumatized newcomers. We should be proud a common commodity like a cup of coffee, can propel someone towards self sufficiency. The coffee you buy is vended out of a food truck parked under the awning of what used to a car service garage. The three door garage itself, has be refurbed as a relaxing place to enjoy your coffee, along with free coffee, and some refugee artwork.
I’d suggest bringing your own reusable cup, and sitting for awhile to enjoy the good vibes. Bring a laptop or tablet to get some work down, and you’ll notice you may not be the only one taking advantage of the makeshift coworking space. Compared with working out of a Starbucks, or other more mainstream coffee shop, you’ll enjoy the space’s wealth of sunlit lounging space. They may even have some random snacks on the menu. On my visit, they were offering crispy sambusas, which may sound familiar as the the African version of the samosa. They’re a little dry, so you’ll want a drink to wash them down, but mine disappeared pretty fast.
There’s free wifi, but you can only visit a limited number of websites. This includes most social media, but you may be surprised to get not available notice for random other sites. When it gets crowded you’ll need some headphones, and on hot days get a seat near the fan, or prepare to sweat a little. The sambusas could use a sauce, or even be made snack size so they’re easier to eat. They’d also do well to offer some other snacks to go along with their coffee as well, even if they were just little tea snacks and pastries. Despite the minor drawbacks, the coffee shop is unique to Atlanta, and deserves return visits. Think of it as the bootstrapped East Coast version of Berkeley’s 1951 Coffee. As the official, unofficial welcome center of Clarkston, let’s hope they enjoy similar success!
Refuge Coffee is located at 4170 E. Ponce de Leon Ave. Most coffee is $2-$3 per cup.