The cafe at the head of the French Market, opposite the Lower Pontalba buildings, is now indelibly stamped in the mind of Orleanians and tourists as the Café du Monde and it seems to have been there forever. A café has been on that site since 1862, so the legend runs. It was not however the Café du Monde. Legends are the fabric of New Orleans, and good for business too, and coffee, in the late nineteenth century, was a central part of the legend for tourists to New Orleans. All I can say for certain at present is that there was no Café du Monde at its now famous site in 1920. That site belonged to a rival coffee brand.

cafe du monde ad from daily picayune dec 10 1899
Cafe du Monde advert from The Daily Picayune Dec 10 1899.

I can find no reference to Café du Monde as a brand until an article in The Daily Picayune May 21 1899. It is merely a product description. There is also a famous advertisement for the brand that originates from the same year. Café du Monde was a product of the Southern Coffee Mills situated first on Lafayette street and later Tchoupitoulas street. The company was founded by D. H. Hoffman (b.1865) in 1887. Cross-referencing newspapers and tour guides suggests that the brand held its own against rivals and made no claims to the site at the head of the French Market. That claim was made by a rival brand

There were many rival coffee brands, and they seemed to have the upper hand in terms of their advertising profile. Among these rival brands were Luzianne Coffee owned by Wm. B. Reilly & Co., and French Market Coffee, a brand belonging to the New Orleans Coffee Co., Ltd. The Luzianne brand seems to have been established later than Café du Monde, the earliest adverts appearing in 1906, but a subjective survey of newspapers suggests that they pursued a more aggressive advertising campaign.

luzianne coffee.jpg

 

The other rival coffee brand mentioned here, French Market Coffee, is key to the legend of Café du Monde and the site at the head of the Meat Market. The New Orleans Coffee Company who owned the French Market brand perhaps had been a little more savvy than Hoffman in acquiring two pieces of the New Orleans coffee legend. The location and the name. They had the location at least until the early 1920s. Two pieces of evidence support this. In their advertisements, they clearly used that location as part of their branding. It’s unlikely that a rival coffee brand using that location would have allowed that or that they would have promoted a rival brand’s site. Secondly, in 1916 they printed Catharine Cole’s The Story of the Old French Market, New Orleans, a ‘complimentary booklet of The New Orleans Coffee Company.’ In this work, the cafe at the front of the Meat Market is referred to ‘satirically’ as ‘Café Rapido’ and is repeatedly associated with the French Market brand. From page 13:

French market coles

No Historical Sketchbook or Picayune Guide or newspaper in the 19th century that I have found has referred to the café at the head of the Meat Market as the Café du Monde and as I have shown the originator of the Café du Monde brand was not born until 3 years after the supposed establishment of the famous café, and the brand itself not established until 1887 at the earliest. The origin of the Café du Monde at that site is a story still to be told and my feeling is that it didn’t happen until the improvements to market occurred in the 1930s.

french market coffee ad 2

catherine cole

 

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