The novel coronavirus may have shifted the way we work out, eat and live, but it didn’t change the need some of us have for coffee. That’s evident based on the line of cars and people at White Rock Coffee in the Hillside neighborhood of East Dallas.
The Lake Highlands-based coffee shop has seen its ups and downs while the pandemic affected the service industry, but they at least had some advantages built into their business model.
“I think we’ve kind of positioned ourselves differently than a lot of the independent coffee houses in that we do have drive-thru. I think that really helped in the big scheme of things,” said Nancy Baker, who owns White Rock Coffee with her husband, Bob.
They also implemented online ordering fairly quickly: At the Lake Highlands location, you can make an order from your phone to walk in and pick it up at a table near the front door.
Also since mid-March, these coffee locations have had signs all over their businesses. Whether you’re walking up or driving through, you’d find photo-copied signs stating policies: gloves, masks, the usual, plus the fact that they were social distancing as much as possible, so your order could take a bit longer than you were used to pre-COVID.
People haven’t seemed to mind too much.
“People would say, ‘We’re only taking one trip out today with the kids or spouse or dogs,’ and they would come to White Rock Coffee at the Lakewood location or the Lake Highlands location,” Baker said.
Another location remains closed; the tornado that ripped through Royal Lane is responsible for that. But the Bakers have also opened another location during the pandemic, one right in the middle of offices that would normally be filled with employees.
This location near Preston Road and Northwest Highway is difficult to find, too — it sits within an office building. It also has less of the neighborhood-coffeehouse vibe than one might be used to in Lake Highlands, but the more modern feel and built-for-speed approach works here.
"[Business] has been up and down — again, luckily we have the drive-thru, that has really sustained, and the weird thing about it is, we’re getting online coffee orders from all over the country. At the very first, our wholesale business, like through Central Market, went through the roof, but it's been up and down with the restaurants we serve closing."
With the East Dallas location having always been takeaway only (it’s always been set up only with a drive-thru and walk-up window), the only space for dining in is the flagship in Lake Highlands.
At the time of speaking with Baker, they had that location set up for 75% capacity. After Gov. Greg Abbott’s rollback of openings, it’s sitting at 50%.
“We still have distancing, and we’re sanitizing the tables every time somebody moves over,” she said. “Of course, the new regulations on masks are kind of affecting our customers, so it’s been a little hot spot.”
We’ve heard of some restaurants handling customers who don’t want to wear masks: When asked more about that, Baker kept the conversation to caffeine.
“Our lane is serving great coffee, our lane is roasting great coffee for our customers,” she said.
They’re doing that, along with making sure customers keep their distance from each other, while still trying to manage that coffee-shop vibe.
“We miss being able to have our customers in; we have such deep roots in the community, even when we started having people out on the patio, they couldn’t come in and congregate, they would still come with their friends," Baker said. "We have kind of a Friday morning group with some car-loving guys; they still come out and talk and gather on the patio. We have a lot of cyclists that come in, runners and joggers and moms.”
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If you’re a cyclist making a stop here, by the way, a good post-ride or mid-ride break is an espresso con panna and a scone. The hand-rolled scones served at White Rock come out of their commercial kitchen, and if you’ve yet to make this spot part of your rotation, try one of the near-perfect breakfast sandwiches.
If you have that moment, whether it’s walking away from an order window or driving from the drive-thru, sipping local coffee and a satisfying meal can make you feel a bit better, if only for a bit.
“We’re so grateful for being able to be around,” Baker said. “We’re real grateful we’re about to provide the cup of normalcy.”
White Rock Coffee, locations in Hillside, Lake Highlands and North Dallas. Open for drive-thru, takeout and dine-in.