Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Co-Op Cafe Expands As Counter-Culture Hub In Downtown Jacksonville

Ryan Benk
Siddie Friar making an espresso for a customer at Coniferous Cafe.

After just over a year in business, downtown Jacksonville’s only worker-owned coffee shop is expanding for the second time.

The Coniferous Cafe co-op wants to position itself as a safe haven for the free exchange of ideas.

University of North Florida students know Angel Kalafatis as Professor Sex. She’s a graduate student and a mentor at the university’s LGBT resource center.

A couple Sundays every month, Kalafatis takes her sex-ed lessons to Coniferous Cafe on the corner of Monroe and Laura streets, where she feels less constrained than she does on campus.

Kalafatis was a major force behind UNF’s Sex Week, meant as half education and half celebration of sexual positivity and diversity. It generated controversy this year when campus conservatives and some parents found panels like “Polyamory vs. Cheating” too raunchy to be officially sanctioned by the university.

She said no one challenges her agenda when she delivers her bi-weekly workshops at Coniferous Cafe.

“That by itself, that flexibility to be that organic and that community-created — I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

Her class isn’t the only event filling seats. Regular poetry nights, author showcases and yoga ensure downtown’s only late-night coffee shop is often filled to the brim.

The cafe, which began late last year as an "info shop" selling radical books and self-published pamphlets called zines, expanded early this year to start offering coffee, tea and light snacks.

Coniferous doesn’t have one single owner — workers earn their share after enough time behind the counter. But most days you’ll find community organizer Siddie Friar manning the register.

“We’d like to be a reliable alternative to the status quo of coffee shops and really bring back that 90s grunge feel of the community coffee house,” she said.

Info shops sprang up in the 1990s, often with counter-culture or anarchist tilts. Friar said Coniferous Cafe doesn’t adhere to one political philosophy, but rather aims to be a conduit to thinking outside the mainstream partisan divide. 

Cities of all sizes, which have large populations of young people — like New York, San Francisco and Gainesville — have these types of shops, Friar said. They’re a sign of diverse culture.

“They can help pop filter bubbles and expose people who may not be looking for that kind of information to it, and also provide a hub for people that are already thinking, ‘Man, there’s got to be a different way we can approach life,’” she said.

Coniferous Cafe, at 42 W. Monroe St., is set to double its retail space by the end of the summer after it recently acquired the property next door. Plans include opening a kitchen and expanding the menu by the end of September.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.