Walkabout: Garfield cafe aims to give people space as much as coffee

Many of us have been there. Sitting in a cafe with our laptops, the third hour morphing into the fourth, we buy a second cup of coffee out of guilt, though no one has said anything.

We just know it's kind of leechy to be using their free Wi-Fi and contributing maybe $5 to their coffers over four hours.

This is not the reason business partners Elliott Williams and Kevin Boyle decided to experiment on the genre. But it is a reason Brian Shope, Marc Rettig and Hannah DuPlessis spent part of their workday Monday at the experimental pop-up cafe Catapult, at 5151 Penn Ave. in Garfield.

Catapult is open every day but Sundays through the end of October, from 10 a.m. to midnight, as a workplace and a networking site for creative workers.

Mr. Williams, 29, has a master's degree from Carnegie Mellon University in human/computer interaction. The cafe is an interesting intersection of his academic studies and the cohort that populates such places: people who interact with computers.

He said he wants to give people an alternative to the isolation of the home office, or help them avoid spending uncertain or shoestring capital on office rent. Catapult is there to help people work outside the box, not for Mr. Williams to sell coffee.

"Support is what a lot of indie workers need," he said. "I can create an alternative argument for people to come to Pittsburgh or to stay here. With the level of communications we have now, I don't think there need to be big offices, and you don't have to be in a cubicle."

Mr. Williams is working through the potential for this to be a business model, including monthly memberships based on whether you need a desk and quiet space to meet clients or if you just seek use of a printer.

People who don't drink coffee at Catapult are asked to pay $1 an hour.

On Monday, Mr. Shope, a social networking consultant, worked at his laptop on the lower level while Mr. Rettig and Ms. DuPlessis worked at either end of a long couch on a small stage-like level in back.

As I watched them working apart but together, I thought of the most catalytic, fruitful and focused time of my life as a potential artist. It was in Sigrid Shafagh's studio just down the street from 5151 Penn.

Sigrid would be working on a large painting, Zivi and Jan might be working on projects in the next room and I would join them with my clay or paints. With WYEP on, we would occasionally converse but in short spates. In the comfort of a quiet, disinterested presence, I played and felt free and I thoroughly focused.

Mr. Rettig and Ms. DuPlessis connected with me on that. He said the cafe's environment is right for that meditative muse to touch you.

"It addresses a different part of your psyche," said Ms. DuPlessis.

Mr. Williams and three friends worked at Voluto Coffee several blocks away when they started a design firm called Pink• .

"We decided we didn't have to have a studio space, we could just work from there," he said. "It was three of us with three computers. So I decided to try something like that."

The Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. helped match Mr. Williams with Stephan Koledin's property. The Sprout Fund granted $4,000 to help Mr. Williams create Catapult.

"We live upstairs and have always been interested in things that engage the community," Mr. Koledin said. It was previously an art gallery and a counseling service. "We want to bring it back on the market, and we're very interested in anything that can bring the community back."

Knowing it's tough to find a landlord who would lease to an enterprise for a month, he said, "I was willing to take some risk." He and the Catapult partners have not talked about whether Catapult could remain beyond October, if it has the staying power to do so.

Mr. Shope said he has always worked out of cafes. "I once had an office, but I didn't like being there. The vision of this as a community place that supports start-ups and the offer of no strings attached, that you don't have to feel guilty staying here, this is something I would be happy to support."

"We have a studio in Shadyside," said Mr. Rettig, "but here we are in a coffee shop."

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk .


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