Updated: May 28, 2019
What separates a good cup of coffee from an experience? I was schooled when I was a young man who managed the Maison Blanche hair salon on Canal Street by a true French Quarter icon. I met Margie O’Dayre as her hairdresser. She lived with her dog Toto on the second floor of the Le Petit Salon building in the 600 block of St. Peter, a half a block from the old A&P. She and her sisters sang on WWL radio on a show called Dawn Busters who were in the tradition of The Gumm and Boswell Sisters. This was before television. Her father played the organ for the silent movies at the Saengar Theatre.
Marge would play many roles on the stage at the Le Petit Theatre as Mama Rose in Gypsy and Dolly Levy in Hello Dolly. We met once a week for coffee at the Royal Blend on Royal Street before going to style her hair on Saturday mornings. She not only taught me the love of a morning brew but the tradition of Galatoire’s on Fridays where we would go sometimes with Al Shea. When “Marge” entered the room, I would start with the opening bars of “I’m just a Broadway Baby” and she would follow with “walking off my tired feet!” She was a belter in the Garland/Merman tradition and had a great voice.
Coffee in the Quarter is a communal thing. You get to know your baristas and the regulars at the coffee shops very much like people who goes to a bar. It is probably not like this in other cities because people drive and don’t have time or too cool slow down to get to know people in the coffee shops. In the Big Easy, we have to slow down and be friendly or else we get attitude and slower service. Margie , the thespian, believed that New Orleans was the southern version of New York City where we created characters in some sort of love Tennessee Williams play. When she played Mama Rose and Becky Allen played Mazepa at Tulane they went to a party in costume and the party goers thought she was a madam and her girls hookers. Uptown don’t understand the Quarter and the Quarter has its legends with a new one coming to town everyday.
I’ve recently moved away from the central Quarter to Epslanade Avenue. I rarely get to my old stomping grounds in the mid-quarter unless it’s to see a client and now I am drinking coffee at home. When I decided to start writing photographic essays, I called Roy Bruno, the owner of both PJ’s in the Quarter for an interview. He is a super busy guy with four locations - constantly on the move. I wanted to take his photos because like me, he's a ham and likes to light people's life. He was on the top of my list for interviewing because he is what’s happening now in the Quarter while giving respect to tradition. Roy was excited as I to have coffee and catch up. He made time immediately in his schedule the next morning to meet since it had been a while since we hung out. We sat at table at the PJ’s on Decatur where we watched the morning routines of the Quarter come to life. Roy paused our conversation to greet customers as they entered to include them in our visit.
In 2012 I first met Roy when he was a barista on Chartres Street. I made it my ritual to start my day there where I browsed social media while having coffee. Some coffee shops you can “disappear” and have little to no interaction while some you get too much interaction and here, I got just enough.
With his hard work and vision, he has now become a multi unit franchise owner. He maintains a staff that is friendly and time efficient, serving coffee and pastries to people on the move. Roy remembers every customer's names and makes his best effort to make them feel special .
He and his brothers are "uptown boys" who grew up around the Audubon area and Antoine's where his grandfather and uncle on his maternal side were fifth generation proprietors. The family celebrated many occasions in the Escargot Room. Roy now has an apartment adjacent to Antoine’s.
He developed his passion for photography when a friend loaned him a camera and they went "shooting" around Jackson Square one morning. He is now seen with his iPhone and a PJ’s cup attached to his fingertips wherever he goes. He photographs his “roaming cup” series that has a strong presence on Instagram where the cup is seen with all type of characters that even includes the mules that draw the carriages in front of the square. It only takes a quick glance at his social media pages to realize that Roy loves the colourful characters of the French Quarter.with his sense of humour.
Roy embraces the ambience of the Quarter and celebrates the diversity of it but realizes it is a destination for tourists. The Quarter’s laid back environment welcomes all walks of life, even in the long, hot summer months.
You never know who you will run into while your drinking your morning coffee. My friend, Heather Gaye Twitchell from the French Quarter Fest. camp twirling through the doors and . we had all our a-ha "what are you doing here" and " how do you all know each other" moment.
After we finished our coffee, we decided to take a walk and photograph him in his element. We took photos with Leroy, the doorman at the Omni and Sterling at Antoine’s who both have been working on St. Louis Street for over 50 years. They know Roy by name. Their spirits were en-ightened for the paparazzi when they saw him.
I realized the reason why I love the Quarter so much and why I call it home. It truly is a neighbourhood where you run into people that are genuine. When you leave them, your spirits are happier and lighter- Roy Bruno is one of those people for me and countless others.