By Meredith Wagner | Arts & Life Editor
One of Waco’s favorite college town coffee shops is opening a second pair of doors early next week, just a 12-minute drive from campus. Common Grounds Woodway, a new and perhaps improved version of the circa 1994 home-turned-business on Eighth Street, is scheduled for a soft opening Monday after months of preparation and renovation.
The second Common Grounds, located at 7608 Woodway Drive, is a combination of three businesses — Common Grounds, Westside Pizza Co. and Native Sons Coffee Roasters — all of which are easily accessible in a single, industrial-style building with two adjoining outside patios.
Nearly one and a half years have passed since the idea of Common Grounds Woodway was first vocalized and seriously considered. A growing staff has since undergone months of planning and preparation, and the excitement among lovers of the original location is palpable to say the least. Common Grounds Woodway General Manager Kody Bartley said, “You should expect to want to stay.”
Both shops will bring their own unique elements to the table, despite being part of the same business.
John Hewitt, Common Grounds Woodway staff manager, said the two won’t be synonymous, but that they nonetheless intend to imitate the best parts of CG Waco in the Woodway location.
“I think we’ve taken a lot of positive things from Common Grounds Waco, and we hope to instill that into this shop,” Hewitt said. “One thing that we do want to carry over is this environment that’s welcoming and inclusive — something that brings people together. Most businesses want to do that, but I think there is something special about the coffee shop and coffee in general.”
Bartley said fans of the original location shouldn’t worry about the changes being implemented because, “At the end of the day, we are Common Grounds. We’re going to have the full menu. For the most part, your favorite drink is going to be here.”
Bartley and Hewitt have been working as a team to bring the vision for CG Woodway to life for months now, and their overarching ambitions for the new shop seem to be compatible — especially when it comes to giving the community a voice in the process.
“We really want the culture of this community to affect our culture,” Hewitt said. “We don’t want to cut and paste what we already have that is successful. To truly be successful and good for the community, we have to reflect what the community wants.”
Bartley’s approach to preparing the Woodway location for business runs along similar lines.
“At the end of the day, if we’re not serving the community, we’re not going to be open,” Bartley said. “We can have a blueprint, we can have an idea, we can have a model of what our business is going to be like, but until the community says yes or no, we don’t know.”
Kyler Griffith is heading Native Sons Coffee Roasters, which will import coffee beans from various countries and will supply coffee to both of the Common Grounds locations. Griffith worked at CG Waco for one year in 2012, after which, he said was fired and started working at Starbucks.
His love for coffee, however, did not fade away, and he found himself working for Common Grounds again down the road. In 2015, Griffith was promoted to head barista at the Waco location, and today you can find him roasting coffee in the towering, polished Probat roaster behind the counter at CG Woodway.
Griffith described coffee roasting as a challenge of its own kind.
“Coffee roasting is a dark art,” Griffith said. “There’s not a lot of information out there, and a lot of the people who have information don’t want to share it.”
Griffith said each batch of coffee he roasts is different from the last, which makes his job coming up with “recipes” both scary and frustrating. At the same, he said the “a-ha” moments he experiences through trial and error help him refine the roasting process and ensure consistency between batches, which is rewarding in itself. Griffith said he has been experimenting with recipes for Native Sons and Common Grounds for nearly two months.
Although Native Sons is the newest business of the three, with more room for innovation, Common Grounds is approaching its expansion with a similarly experimental mentality.
“Our drinks and our services have already been really well received,” Hewitt said. “That gives us the freedom to try new things, and to really dive into this with the expectation that we’re not just going to be stagnant and do what we’ve always done.”
Bartley said the CG Woodway staff is allowing the industrial architecture to influence the inside of the shop as well as the outside. Both Bartley and Hewitt said the aesthetic appeal will be one of the more prominent differences between the first location and the second.
“First and foremost, we’re not in an old house,” Bartley said. “We want to let this space be itself.”
Hewitt, Bartley and owners Blake and Kimberly Batson asked residents in the Woodway area for input on their hopes for the shop. Bartley said many responses related to the need for child and family-friendly spaces, which is why CG Woodway secured outdoor patios and ensured an inclusive yet spacious indoor setup.
Hewitt said they have simultaneously kept other demographics in mind as they developed the interior. Referring to the all-too-real, recurring complaint for insufficient number of electrical outlets at coffee shops, Hewitt said students would be able to find plenty of places to plug in and stay a while.
Ultimately, though, Bartley said their most pressing goal relates to the overall essence the shop will emit.
“I’ve always felt at home at Common Grounds Waco. We wanted to bring that kind of atmosphere here,” Bartley said. “We know the power of the feeling of walking in and knowing ‘This is my chair. This is the desk I sit at.’ We want to bring that kind of spirit of welcomeness to [CG Woodway] as well, for everyone.”
As for the challenge of combining three businesses in one location, the roomy interior and creatively labeled signage make navigating the expansive space a breeze. Hewitt said this is intended to allow for the customer to feel comfortable planting their feet in a single spot for hours at a time.
“You can leave caffeinated, buzzed and full all at the same time,” he said. “And there’s a bathroom. We have everything you need.”
Along the same lines, Hewitt said visiting CG Woodway will be a memorable experience overall.
“I think [people] are going to be pretty taken aback by the scope of it all,” Hewitt said. “I think they’re going to leave with a completely different experience but still a very positive experience.”
As for Baylor and Mclennan Community College students, the drive to a probably unfamiliar part of town may feel inconvenient at first, but Bartley encouraged residents close to campus to make an effort to visit nonetheless.
“[Students are] going to want to make the drive at least a couple times for the experience. It’s surprisingly not far away,” Bartley said.
Whether they’re college students, Waco residents or curious tourists, customers are encouraged to approach the new business as a place they can call home. CG Woodway management agreed that the space is meant to inspire conversation, connection and comfortability for people of all kinds. Beginning next week, the Common Grounds tradition will live on, both in Waco and in Woodway.