A couple of Kernersville cafes

by Gus Lubin

Getting a cappuccino in Kernersville is easy, though it might not have been 10 years ago. But a real cafe atmosphere — poets and artists conversing over news of the day, or even hipsters with MacBooks — these settings are hard to find. However, two new cafes are making a decent effort.

The first time I visited Coffee Connect, it was empty except for a young black woman behind the counter and a mustached man silently engaged at his laptop. As the name suggests, Coffee Connect provides free wi-fi. Global coffees, espresso drinks and a small selection of local pastries and sandwiches are also on the menu. Like it or not, two wide-screen TVs hang at opposite corners of the room. Coffee Connect feels, briefly, like an airport cafe. But on closer inspection it’s more. The young woman is Jeano McKnight, owner and barista of the 1-year-old cafe. McKnight and her small staff treat customers like regulars, offering to keep coffee cards at the cash register for patrons. Their clientele includes local groups that meet at Coffee Connect, such as the Kernersville Cribbage Club (Tuesdays at 6 p.m.). Coffee Connect also holds live jazz and acoustic performances several times a month. My second visit to Coffee Connect was a better experience. After all, what is the central feature of good atmosphere? Familiarity. Well, there was McKnight behind the counter, on the phone and still attentive and smiling. There was the same mustached man, sitting erect as his laptop. There was the same quiet jazz on the radio, the faint chatter of two TVs. I sat at the back of Coffee Connect with a cafe Americano and my notebook. The room is a kaleidoscope of delicate lighting.

Ornate lamps protrude from the yellow wall. Black spotlights illuminate the bar. An “open” sign flashes red, blue and pink in the window. Outside the Kernersville sky was orange, past the bare trees and fast cars of Route 66. The second cafe, le Select, recently re-opened in the Factory Building in downtown Kernersville, after several years at a quieter location on Chesham Drive. Le Select and adjoined bookstore Shakespeare and Company clearly aspire to their Parisian namesakes. A wall at le Select is covered in framed black-and-white photographs of Sylvia Beach, Ernest Hemingway and other icons of the Lost Generation. Several features of le Select evoke Paris, like an old wooden chess set, a beautiful espresso machine and wrought-iron tables, some of which sit in the hallway of the Factory Building, somewhat like the streetside tables of France. But other elements are pure fancy of literature lover and owner Gail Behrns, such as specialty drinks Juliet’s Cup and Midsummer Night’s Dream. And some parts don’t fit at all, like classic rock on the stereo. Although le Select Kernersville is no le Select Paris, the cafe remains a good place to eat, drink, chat, read and write. The menu includes pastries from Simple Kneads Bakery in Greensboro and quiches from the Pegg House Tea Room in Kernersville. Above all, le Select offers the blessed union of coffee and books — and an independent bookstore cafe is a thousand times nicer than Barnes & Noble. On my first visit to le Select, a Wednesday evening, the cafe had closed early, citing “winter hours.” On my second visit, early evening on a Thursday, the cafe was nearly empty. I browsed the books at Shakespeare and Company, and then played chess over coffee with the owner’s son. At a time when Starbucks has closed stores across the country, when Borders and just about every other business is nearing bankruptcy, and even in France cafes are closing by the dozens, a couple of independent cafes in Kernersville may seem like an odd idea. But the modern man will always need cappuccino; and he ought to buy local.

Coffee Connect is one of two engaging cafes in Kernersville that are locally owned and operated, creating a backlash against Starbucks. (photo by Gus Lubin)

Coffee Connect; 1405 NC Highway 66 S. Kernersville; 336.497.4701

Le Select; 210 N. Main St. Kernersville; 336.993.1050