A Little Coffee Shop Keeps Grinding

A shot of espresso to go, pictured March 17, 2020.
A shot of espresso to go, pictured March 17, 2020. Taylor Adams
It wasn’t long ago that one could jump on a green bike and make her way from the central business district to the eastern side of Deep Ellum — the quieter side where the beautification efforts by the city stay cleaner and there are fewer people trying to make Deep Ellum Uptown.

That part of the neighborhood is still lovely, but the bikes and scooters are gone, and the atmosphere is different thanks to the coronavirus.

One business in that part of Dallas is Murray Street Coffee Shop.

“We are, year over year, kind of at about 50% sales, compared to last year or the early part of this year,” co-owner Douglas Davis says. “That’s a real setback to have. The last five or six years, we’ve had year-over-year growth; we were actually just looking at making money.”

The small, two-story coffee shop with colorful streamers dancing on the edge of its awnings has had its ups and downs before COVID-19 hit Dallas. It was closed in March and reopened in mid-May, more or less in the structure it has now.

Customers can walk up to the front door where a table sits. You can kindly holler your order to the back of the small room where an employee works — frequently that’s Davis’ wife, Liz — and wait at the door. There’s a card reader on a table for you to pay. Take a step back, wait for your order to be placed on the table and for the employee to step away, and you’re good to take your order.

Really, it’s a nice example of contactless order and pickup while still getting at least a bit of human interaction — something we’re becoming more and more grateful for.

click to enlarge The system for ordering and picking up here is contactless and ideal. - TAYLOR ADAMS
The system for ordering and picking up here is contactless and ideal.
Taylor Adams
But fewer people are getting their orders at Murray Street compared with the Before Times.

“I will say the one thing that we have been hurt the most on is our lunch business,” Davis says. “We have a lot of businesses that were down here, the building across the street and so forth — they still haven’t come back, really.”

It makes sense. The Observer's office is downtown, and I'm not spending time in that neighborhood as much either.

But it’s worth making the bike ride or drive to neighborhoods outside your own to support your favorites: They need you.

At Murray Street, the couple changed the shop’s hours: They went from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and have gotten breaks and help from their landlord.

“So we’ll be here another year,” Davis says.

Those are extra-good words to hear these days.

“We renegotiated our lease, so that helps, and have cut down on our overhead, but it’s about breakeven at best,” Davis says.

And that’s not sustainable forever. Davis doesn’t plan on letting people into the shop anytime soon either.

“We could get people in to sit, but our seating capacity is so small, at least with the perceived risks with someone who's COVID-infected and getting us infected, those risks outweigh the potential revenue we could get,” he says. “I think that there’s a level of infection rate, somewhere below 1%, for some period of weeks where we have to reasonably think that that’s the new normal, and that’s what we have to accept [to open].”

They have a decent number of seats outside now: about 12, and the colorful awning offers some protection if it’s raining. They’re looking at adding propane heaters to warm things up when it gets cold, too.

click to enlarge The blinker sandwich with prosciutto (pictured many months ago, when it was safe to dine in restaurants). - TAYLOR ADAMS
The blinker sandwich with prosciutto (pictured many months ago, when it was safe to dine in restaurants).
Taylor Adams
If you’re looking to stop by Murray Street, go for breakfast and get the blinker ($6.50). We went into detail about what makes breakfast here great not too long ago (though, admittedly, it feels years ago at this point). Davis also says lunch is good, particularly for the Insider, a sandwich with chipotle aioli, cheddar, tomato, red onion, avocado, arugula and cucumber on Ezekiel bread ($10.50).

We checked with Davis to make sure the online menu had current prices: “Yes. We didn’t adjust anything as a result of the pandemic,” he says.

Not every business has been able to keep prices the same, but the owners of Murray — like plenty of others — are still pivoting, bobbing and weaving to keep on their feet.

“We’ve had a lot of edge-of-the-cliff experiences in this business, and this is just one more,” Davis says.

Murray Street Coffee Shop, 103 Murray St. (Deep Ellum). Open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.