A new coffee cart in the corner of the Cannon House Office Building basement doesn’t look like much, but it’s providing congressional staffers a jolt of brightness in what has sometimes been a bleak year.
“In the squalid wasteland of decent coffee that is the House side, Rako is an oasis,” said House Republican staffer Justin Discigil between sips. “The Americano is solid.”
Staffers were so eager to try the Rako outpost that the espresso machine ran out of beans before closing on Monday, leaving those in line disappointed and perhaps sleepy. But they didn’t have to wait long — the brew was back at an official ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, complete with free samples.
“There can never be enough coffee on Capitol Hill, so bringing a local, woman-owned, small business that serves sustainably sourced, high-quality coffee is a win for everyone,” said a spokesman for the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, adding that his office is “thrilled” to see that the latest addition to the House dining landscape is “already so popular.”
Popular may be an understatement. The opening of this unassuming kiosk, tucked into a corner and hardly bigger than the espresso machine that sits on it, has inspired bursts of eloquence and a torrent of praise out of proportion to its size.
“10/10 americanos at the new coffee cart in Cannon/Longworth tunnel,” tweeted Bailey Mailloux, a staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee GOP. “You know I can’t say no to trying a new coffee spot.”
Rako’s “hipster coffee” (as some have called it) has touched a nerve among weary Hill staffers. For one thing, workers have long complained that the sprawling Capitol complex needs better food options, even after sought-after chains like &pizza and Au Bon Pain arrived in 2019 and appropriators directed the CAO to explore adding other brand-name spots. Throw in the stress of a chaotic year — multiple violent attacks on their workplace, not to mention a pandemic — and congressional staffers are ready for some good news.
Rako is open Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and serves coffee, tea and even some baked goods from Washington’s Pluma bakery. It is the second cafe for the local company, joining its all-day location in Arlington, which pours coffee plus stronger offerings like cocktails and wine.
The company’s name is derived from a mountain located in Ethiopia the team encountered on a sourcing trip. “This experience inspired us to take on the challenge to create elevated, exceptional coffees while giving back to the communities we’re a part of both locally and globally,” its website says.
Rako began as a roasting facility in Lorton, in the Northern Virginia congressional district represented by Rep. Don Beyer. The Democrat attended Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, alongside House Chief Administrative Officer Catherine L. Szpindor and an official from Sodexo, which has the House food services contract and operates more than a dozen House-side eateries.
“I look forward to patronizing this local small business, and thank the House CAO’s team for their ongoing efforts to improve the offerings available to all of us who work here,” Beyer said.
Also spotted at the ceremony Tuesday was House Chaplain Margaret G. Kibben — who was there simply to buy coffee, not to offer an opening prayer. “God gets me started. A good cup of coffee keeps me going,” she said after sampling Rako’s wares.
At least one staffer said the timing couldn’t be better. As both chambers of Congress leave summer in the rearview mirror and head into an autumn slog that includes huge bills and nerve-racking deadlines, more coffee sounds just about right. “It seems like a new way to get a caffeine fix was appreciated ahead of a busy few weeks,” said Susan Curran, spokeswoman for the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.
"I can’t imagine a more caffeine-hungry crowd than Hill staffers,” she added.