White Rock Coffee Is a Neighborhood Joint That Started in Nancy and Bob Baker's Garage

In 2005, White Rock Coffee opened its first location on a long weekend. It was a quick hit with locals.
In 2005, White Rock Coffee opened its first location on a long weekend. It was a quick hit with locals. Nick Rallo
On the night before opening their first coffee shop, Bob and Nancy Baker sifted through their checklist of to-dos. They’d spent two years prepping for launch, both head-deep in coffee grounds and the multidimensional needs of starting your own business, designing everything from the architecture to the heat of the coffee bean roast. The realization struck with a blunt force as they worked over their list: They’d forgotten to save money for the cash register. The till was going to be desert-empty on Day 1.

“We truly did not have any money left,” Nancy Baker says. It was Memorial Day weekend of 2005, two years after they’d converted an abandoned Church’s Chicken into their dream business, White Rock Coffee, and their bank accounts were wiped clean. So, what did they do?

They pulled up the cushions on the couch, raking whatever damn change was hanging around under the seats. They cracked open their five kids’ piggy banks.

“We had enough to fill one till,” she says.

Now, we’re sitting in the Bakers' sharp, polished Brew Lab. Bob Baker pours piping water over a ground coffee churned into powder seconds earlier. Water burbles through the filter. A fine, dark liquid forms below. From a short glass, it's smooth, smokey and delicious. Nearby, the digital readout of the espresso machine watches like a patient, docile robot. The Bakers' Brew Lab, a stone’s throw from the original Northwest Highway location, is where they train White Rock Coffee baristas.

It’s 14 years later, and the husband-and-wife team owns a location in Lake Highlands, one in Lakewood and now Preston Hollow. They franchised a concept into Deep Ellum, a vegan food and coffee shop called Tiki Loco from Elm Street Tattoo’s Oliver Peck. Swerve into their drive-thru location in Lakewood at any given time and you’ll find a line snaking around the strip mall. On a recent visit, the line nearly butts out to Mockingbird. No one’s upset about it — White Rock Coffee has got this down.

It started, like a classic Silicon Valley story, in their garage. When they roasted, the aroma spilled out into the neighborhood. Sometimes a concerned citizen would approach and ask what’s ablaze in the Baker household. They had two espresso machines whirring through beans.

click to enlarge A startlingly good, simple chicken salad sandwich at White Rock Coffee for less than couch-cushion change. - NICK RALLO
A startlingly good, simple chicken salad sandwich at White Rock Coffee for less than couch-cushion change.
Nick Rallo
“Our neighborhood was highly caffeinated,” Nancy Baker says. Her background was in IT, and Bob Baker had worked in furniture retail in Oregon. Their marriage began as a long-distance one, each shepherding a business, for many years. From their roasty garage, they combined their powers to DIY a coffee shop that they’d long dreamed of running: built with stern, smart stuff and good recipes. Every year, they head to farms in Colombia and Costa Rica — anywhere coffee is treated like wine — and purchase the raw seeds.

“We tasted every chocolate on the planet,” Nancy Baker says. “That was a very good week.”

On a bright afternoon, the drive-thru drains of cars. A chicken salad sandwich, an innocuous order at first glance, is a simple icon in the age of over-elaboration. It's, of course, a grandmother's recipe—Nancy Baker's to be exact. Studs of apple and diced celery punctuate with fresh roasted chicken and a modest amount of mayonnaise. It’s scooped and layered until it’s dictionary-thick in between good baked wheat with a slice of lettuce. It should be revered as a new Dallas classic, or, at least, a hidden gem.

Coffee sends an electric current through your bloodstream — an iced coffee will leave your eyelids ticking and a lingering hot-roasted chocolate on your palate. Pour-over coffee may or may not have enhanced my DNA with Marvel-ready superpowers. A cup of house White Rock java makes Starbucks taste like you’ve eaten burnt toast during a nosebleed.

Hours after they scraped enough money together to make a cash register look busy, Nancy Baker was out front removing letters from their sign. It had read “Almost open." She was removing the “Almost,” letter by letter. No sooner than “Almost” was removed, a customer followed her inside White Rock Coffee. She phoned Bob to bring lids — they had none. It was fine. They'd do fine.

White Rock Coffee, 10105 E. Northwest Hwy.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nick Rallo
Contact: Nick Rallo