At The Nook, community comes first, coffee second
Almost a decade ago, Derek Shaw and Sam Wijnberg opened The Nook Cafe on campus. Their vision was to make the coffee shop they wished they had had as students at UH.
Today, as the shop goes on its sixth year, some students believe they’ve succeeded.
“It’s my favorite spot on campus,” said first-year law student Elizabeth Hidalgo. “The atmosphere, the prices, the games … It’s all just great.”
The Nook — which some students have said possesses the inclusive spirit of Austin — is authentically Houston. Local craft beers line the bar, Katz Coffee, founded by alum Avi Katz, fill their all-you-can-drink containers and pastries are supplied by local bakeries.
General Manager Charity Whitworth started as a barista when the store opened back in 2013. She was recruited by her childhood friend who now also manages the location. Whitworth believes culture, more than anything else, drives the staying power of The Nook.
“No matter who you love, no matter what you believe, no matter what you wear, as long as you’re not harming a person, we want you to walk through those doors and be loved,” Whitworth said.
Graduate business student Hamza Razaq said this culture is his favorite part of the coffee shop.
“It’s come as you are with no baggage,” Razaq said. “It defines what I love about this city, and what I love about this school.”
The Nook aims to embrace its community as much as the community seems to have embraced the cafe. Art from students and local patrons line the walls, and customers are sometimes called by name as they enter the door.
Stacks of board games are heaped in a cubby towards the back, and bouts of Connect Four in between study sessions are punctuated by riotous laughter.
A sign hangs above the milk and sugar that says, “The perfect person for you is you.”
The shop produces no profit for its owners, and Whitworth said their mission is to create a safe space for students to be and a safe platform for them to express themselves.
“Coffee is secondary,” Whitworth said. “(That mission) comes first. The rest will follow.”
But, eventually, coffee must come somewhere. Among the spectrum of drinks on The Nook’s coffee menu, Whitworth said her favorite beverage is on the sweeter side.
“The Snickers latte is too good,” she said.
With coffee that sweet, and a mission that’s sweeter, The Nook Cafe hopes to be a genuine Cougar tradition for another 6 years to come.