2   128
11   126
16   639
28   222
91   1023

Follow on Instagram

Les Vendeuses of the French Quarter: Women who Sold Food for Freedom

Les Vendeuses of the French Quarter: Women who Sold Food for Freedom

The Café Rose Nicaud in New Orleans is Kenneth and Melba Ferdinand’s tribute to a woman who sold coffee in the French Quarter to purchase her freedom in the early 1800s. The restaurant is dedicated to selling healthy, sustainable food and breakfast all day.  Coffee is an important staple on the menu.

Rose Nicaud was an enslaved woman, and enterprising vendeur or seller on the streets of the French Quarter. She was the first coffee vendor – black or white – to sell her chicory blend to passersby from a portable stand. Through a complicated though legal contractual agreement (coartacion) with her owner, she was able to work her business on the weekends, save a portion of her earnings (the owner received their share), and ultimately purchase her freedom.

“Her coffee was like the benediction that follows after prayer; or, if you prefer, like the bendictine after dinner.” — Catherine Cole, in the 1916 book “The Story of the Old French Market”

The short version of this story is that as a free woman, she re-invested in herself, opened a kiosk in The French Market, and made a substantial living. Her existence and business pre-date the city’s Café du Monde and Starbucks. Her retail business model was more than ingenious; it was the forerunner to what is now a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. Yet, all she wanted was her freedom.

Rose Nicaud was not alone in her efforts to use food as a path to freedom. She was one of a group of enterprising enslaved black women to sell everything from coffee to calas to pralines and more on the streets of the Quarter. They were known as Les Vendeuses.

Les Vendeuses used the law to their advantage. There was coartacion or the contract enabling them to make a down payment towards their freedom, using their earnings to pay a set amount to their owners for their freedom. And there were the Code Noir laws that gave the enslaved in the city agency on the weekends, particularly Sunday, to work on their own. Once a woman paid the established price to the owner, she was free, and the law prohibited her from every being enslaved again. (Louisiana ended the right of self-purchase between 1806-1810, and restricted eligibility for freedom.)

Mural by artist Max Bernardi depicting Rose Nicaud making coffee

Free vendeuses were required to wear the mandatory tignon to distinguish themselves from enslaved women selling their wares on the street. Many vendeuses not only purchased their own freedom but also the freedom of family. Some – a minority – became slaveholders, using the free labor to build their businesses.

Other notable vendeuses include Zabette, Rose Gla, and Manette, who followed Rose Nicaud to sell coffee. Zabette also sold calas and biére du pays (beer brewed from pineapples). Clementine sold calas, carrying a basket on top of her head, across from the old St. Louis Cathedral. And Tasie sold pralines. The names and vendeuses are many. Rose Nicaud is perhaps one of the few documented vendeuses to be referenced by a surname.

 Painting by Maddie Stratton commissioned by

Once Louisiana changed the self-purchase laws and altered Code Noir, the presence of les vendeuses using food to purchase their freedom decreased. Existing free vendeuses continued to operate with stalls in The French Market or move to other parts of the city.

Post-emancipation, les vendeuses had been completely replaced by white-owned businesses hiring black women to cook the same wares for customers.

Fast forward to 2019, there are some black women vending in The French Market, one of the oldest businesses to operate is Loretta’s Authentic Pralines, which has been in business for over 35 years. Restaurant industry icon and food entrepreneur, Chef Shelley Everett, operated The Chubby Biscuit from a stall in The Market for a number of years as well.

The enterprising legacy of Rose Nicaud can be found throughout New Orleans in various forms. The legacy of Les Vendeuses involves their influence on a city’s economic development and the country’s growth in commerce.




Robin Caldwell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2   128
11   126
16   639
28   222
91   1023

Follow on Instagram

Shop Our Favorites!
Black/Gold Ceramic Planter
Drew Rose Designs Ceramic Woven Trim Planter
Nadia Striped Highball Glass
Ombre Taper Candle Set
Victoria Tasseled Pendant By Anthropologie in Blackk
Set Of 4 5×15 Galaxy Luxe Metallic Placemats
Woven Bamboo Placemats, Set of 4 By Anthropologie in Blue Size SET OF 4
La Double J – Set Of Two Scalloped Cotton-blend Placemats – Cream
Butterscotch Blankees
50″” Warwick 3-Door Accent Media Cabinet Fawn Brown – Threshold
35″” x 35″” Juneteenth by Synthia Saint James Canvas Art Print – Masterpiece Art Gallery
Yaheetech Set of 2 Weave Arm Chair Mid-Century Metal Dining Chair Y-Shaped Backrest Hemp Seat, Black
Sweet Jojo Designs Pink, Green and White 84-inch Window Treatment Curtain Panel Pair for Olivia Collection – 42 x 84
Jani Sara Green and Pink Flatweave Rug – 5′ x 8′
‘Beyonce’ Graphic Art Print on Wrapped Canvas Size: 18″ H x 26″ W x 1.5″ D
A Tale of Two Cities Throw Pillow
HBCU’s Canvas Print
Quilted Patchwork Cotton Throw Blanket – Indigo Blue Shibori Dye Indian Decorative Super Soft & Warm Blanket for Sofa and Couch 50 x 60 Inches
Woven Wicker Rattan Wall Decor, Round Seagrass Boho Kitchen Decor, Minimalist Rattan Chargers & Placemats for Dining Table & Wall Art, Rattan Wall Decorative Basket
Mud Pie Rattan Serving Utensils
ColorBird Stripe Tassel Tablecloth Cotton Linen Dust-Proof Table Cover for Kitchen Dinning Tabletop Decoration (Rectangle/Oblong, 55 x 120Inch, Blue)
carol&frank Josie Indigo Pillow
Finnhomy Sideboard Buffet Cabinet, Kitchen Storage Cabinet with Rattan Decorated Doors
Kouboo 1110141 Manhattan 2-Tier Console, Natural Rattan End Table, Brown
A Different World (TV) 11 x 17 TV Poster – Style A
(27×40) Eve’s Bayou Movie Samuel L Jackson Lynn Whitfield Original Poster Print
Yes. Jesus Loves Me (Religious) – Katherine Roundtree 16×20 Black Framed
Dancing in The Living Room (Girls) – Katherine Roundtree 24×32 Black Framed – African American Black Art Print Wall Decor Poster
The Goodbye Kiss (Buffalo Soldier) – Katherine Roundtree 24×32 Black Framed – African American Black Art Print Wall Decor Poster
‘Inspirations’ Note Cards by Jonathan Green
‘Southern Imagery’ Notecards by Jonathan Green
Amanti Art Funeral Procession Framed Art Print
Willow Row Multi Colored Ceramic Coastal Decorative Jar – Set of 2
Stratton Home Reddish Brown Tulum Woven Lantern Stand
Safavieh Noely Coastal Writing Desk
Estaugh Ikat Black/Gray Indoor / Outdoor Area Rug Union Rustic Rug Size: Rectangle 8′ x 11′
Set of 4 Natalya Ikat Stripe Placemats Gray – Ballard Designs
Unique Loom Greek Key Machine-Made Rug
Alfred Greek Key Ottoman Dakota Fields Color: Lilac
Suzanne Kasler Greek Key Sham – Ballard Designs
Doric Upholstered Wingback Arm Chair Red Barrel Studio Body Fabric: Skylar Antique Blue
Slowtide Beach Towel
Goddesses by Synthia SAINT JAMES Canvas Wall Art 3 Piece
Whitewash Wood Draped Bead 4 Light Chandelier by World Market
3pc Taper Candle Holder Set Gold – Threshold
Screen-Door Nightstand – Black – Nate Berkus
Brass Wall Frame – 14″” x 18″” Matted for 8″” x 10″” Photo – Room Essentials, Gold
Solid Bathroom Wastebasket White – Opalhouse
5qt Cast Iron Casserole Dish Cream – Hearth & Hand with Magnolia, White
Minsmere Caned Accent Table Natural Brown – Opalhouse
Shop Now

Click to Shop!

• powered by chloédigital