Yes, It's A Grind Coffee House is a real coffee franchise and not just a fake coffee shop where the drones on Weeds grab their morning cup to go.
But, until this morning, Roasted had yet to visit the It's A Grind in Deep Ellum. Despite having heard from friends and co-workers that the place brewed up a mean cup of joe and having read plenty about that particular franchise's award-winning coffee shop meets "edgy social experiment" reputation in last summer's cover story, we just hadn't made the trip, because, honestly, the coffee shop's not exactly on-the-way to anywhere Roasted usually goes.
But, this morning, with Deep Ellum on the brain and after a post-weekend apartment move, Roasted and our lady friend woke up exhausted only to remember our empty, not-quite-all-moved-in-yet refrigerator. And, after spending Saturday and Sunday in that betwixt-apartments limbo, we needed a coffee house with serious food, coffee and some free Wi-Fi to jump start our Monday morning.
So, Roasted and our lady friend sluggishly climbed into the car and headed to Deep Ellum. Finding the shop's location based on the physical address proved a little tricky because the storefront for It's A Grind isn't actually where a TomTom or other GPS will tell you (more on that later), but, once inside, the hot coffee, warm pastries, wing back chairs and very friendly greeting from the baristas made the experience a memorable one.
Seriously, these folks actually seem to like making coffee. Roasted even caught, and embarrassed, one of the baristas literally whistling while she worked.
It's A Grind is located at 2901 Indiana Blvd. between Gaston Avenue and Elm Street on the ground floor in the retail strip of the Broadstone Ambrose apartment complex . Though as the shop's website warns in all caps: "NO ENTRANCE FROM INDIANA BLVD."
Instead, the coffee house is on the side that faces the Baylor Station platform on Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Green Line, perfectly located for the commuters riding the rail to Baylor, like the two folks we watched exit the doors of the train, walk a dozen or so steps and enter the coffee shop only to leave with their coffees in hand headed in the direction of the hospital. Or the folks who live in the Ambrose, where It's A Grind offers free delivery.
But, by car, well, it's not exactly a convenient spot where you can grab a quick cup of coffee for the road because customers must either enter the Ambrose parking garage from Malcolm X Boulevard or park on North Walton on the east side of the complex (which is a lot easier to get in and out of than the parking garage, especially, one imagines during the very early morning hours).
Once inside, the first thing that Roasted and our lady friend noticed was that the place looked and smelled an awful lot a Starbucks coffee only with more comfy chairs. Only, thanks to the shop's bluesy-rock soundtrack and huge paintings of artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Lena Horne to Billie Holiday to Robert Johnson, technically, It's A Grind is more like a cross between Starbucks and House of Blues. Not necessarily in a bad way either, it's just that it has a very commercial, chain-like coffee shop feel.
But, now that Roasted got those criticisms off our chests, on to the good things the shop has going for it, which is plenty.
For starts, as mentioned before the jump, there's the friendly baristas. We ordered one regular coffee and an iced coffee, and a couple of pastries. They asked us for our names, and Angela, who took our order (and was pictured in last year's feature), offered helpful suggestions when we ordered, like the apple muffin's better served warm.
But, after reading last year's cover story, we weren't too surprised by the excellent service. The coffeehouse was the first entrepreneurial undertaking of the Demeter Project, a nonprofit ("more-than-profit") dedicated to paying a living wage (nearly twice the federal minimum wage) and providing full health benefits, reliable full-time hours (with flexible scheduling) and hiring guidelines that help people in need of a second chance. According to piece, they were seeking to employ "asylum seekers, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, ex-convicts, reformed prostitutes, former drug users, pretty much anyone in dire need of a second chance." And, well, Angela's still working there a year later and, again, she was whistling a tune behind the espresso bar.
A second chance is good for the drip coffee bar too. The bar is self serve, which was great because Roasted and our lady friend sampled through all three of the traditional offerings of the day to find one that we liked. We both found the shop's Mocca Java to be the best tasting and well-balanced brew, but only after finding the mild "House Blend" a little light for us and the "High Octane" a little to bitter for its own good. The shop's cold brewed iced coffee was smooth and satisfying with a good caffeine punch, but, still, it's no Buli's Naughty Toddy.
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The shop's manager Carlos Guerrero has been with It's A Grind since January 2009, but he says he's been in the service industry for nearly 30 years.
"The hardest part is to keep the sales in line with the wages we are paying," he said this morning. Seems like the shops uber busy in the mornings, that's when they see the lion's share of their customer traffic, according to Guerrero who's remaining positive about the future.
"We expect a lot more traffic when the Green Line's all done and connected," he said. "The mornings are very busy, but, right now, the rest of the day from 5 to 9 is slow. At night, it's almost like we're closed down."
So, for those of use who have a hard time working in the evening at other local over-crowded coffee haunts, It's A Grind is a squatter's paradise with free Wi-Fi and plenty of comfy seating.