On Ninth Street, a long black awning hangs over a series of lavender columns. On it, “Francesca’s” is scrawled in neat cursive font. Here, members of the Duke and Durham communities can re-energize with delicious caffeinated beverages, satisfy a sweet-tooth and enjoy free Wi-Fi and friendly service. The café also features large wooden booths lined with purple cushions. It’s an ideal study haven.
When I walked into Francesca’s on a Friday afternoon this fall, the sounds of classical orchestral music, a fan in the corner and the occasional soft murmur from one person to another tempered an otherwise heavy silence. Colorful abstract paintings by local artist Alan Botifoll line the purple and brick walls. I approached the counter and scanned the espresso menu.
AJ Belmouloud, the café’s general manager, emerged after a minute. He wore a black bowler hat and lavender shirt, and I wondered if his coordination with the café’s color scheme was intentional.
“Hello, young lady,” he greeted me with a remarkable accent and an easy smile. A native of Algeria, Belmouloud speaks Berber, French, Arabic and English. He was a medical interpreter at Duke Hospital until he took over the management of Francesca’s in 2012. His hospitality is irresistible, and the coffee and desserts are as good as ever.
Francesca’s Caffé primarily offers three enticing treats: espresso, baked goods, gelato. Their espresso menu features organic, locally-roasted, fair trade coffee, Belmouloud said, as well as a variety of lattes and specialty drinks like the Caffé Francesca—espresso with steamed milk and amaretto syrup, topped with whipped cream. They also serve 14 organic teas and 19 flavors of gelato made on-site. Equally tempting are the biscotti, a traditional Viennese chocolate almond cake known as sachertorte, vegan peanut butter cups, chocolate pots de crème, cappuccino brownies, apple turnovers and the list goes on.
Francesca’s is divided into two rooms. One, where you order, has about a dozen circular and rectangular tables and a low bar that looks out the front window. The next room houses the four covetable booths, more small tables and several couches near the front window.
“It’s relaxed, and I like that it’s quiet” senior Lauren Lee said. “It doesn’t get as crowded as other places. They can get claustrophobic.”
The café hosts Go night every Wednesday, where attendees can play the board game Go, and chess night every Thursday.“People know about the free Wi-Fi, so they come here to study, yes. But it’s a café," Belmouloud said. "You can come here with your friends, hang out. It’s not just for studying.”
Francesca's Dessert Caffé is located at 706 Ninth St. Durham, N.C. 27705.