1535 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
Sometimes, the most successful endeavors are born from taking risks.That was certainly the case for Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, who founded Compass Coffee in Washington, DC. What started as a friendship between two men training to become Marines turned into business partnership, and a successful one at that.
Haft and Suarez first opened Compass Coffee in the Shaw neighborhood. But for those of you who are directionally challenged, you can find plenty of other locations across the city, including shops near Farragut Square and Gallery Place.
I decided to spend my Saturday morning at the place where it all began, a laundromat turned coffee shop located at 1535 7th St NW, just a couple blocks from the Shaw-Howard U Metro station. I entered what looked from the outside like a run-down warehouse into a well-maintained, spacious cafe. They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover for a reason.
I arrived around 8:30 AM, so there was no line and plenty of open tables to choose from. I ordered a croissant and an Americano, the former flaky and buttery and the latter strong and tangy. The words “Real Good Coffee” are printed on the coffee cups, and they aren’t lying.
The shop is comprised of both tall wooden tables with bar stools and small round tables with shorter chairs. Cylindric poles decorated with coffee grounds stretch from the ceiling to the floor. Colorful maps of continents around the world are painted on the white exposed brick walls.
The music at Compass Coffee played at a perfect volume: loud enough to enjoy, but quiet enough to tune out. The music sounded familiar, nostalgic even, the kind of soft indie pop I used to listen to in college.
But the furniture, music, and art are not the only parts of Compass Coffee with personality. Even during the early Saturday morning shift, the baristas seemed to be truly enjoying themselves (or faking it awfully well), laughing, chatting, and making some delicious coffee.
After a couple hours, I popped my head up from my computer and looked around at the spectrum of customers: Families, young adults, seniors, some alone, some with friends or significant others. Compass Coffee does not appeal to just one type of person, and that’s because the coffee and the atmosphere is real, and it’s good. Haft and Suarez have successfully created a coffee shop that is hip, but unpretentious. They have mastered the art of constructing a shared public space that is diverse, open, and community-oriented, a place where the people are friendly and the beverages are tasty. And when it comes down to it, those are really the main ingredients for a successful coffee experience.
For more information about The Compass Coffee story, check out The Washington Post’s Series “From the Ground Up.”