Here a chain, there a chain
By Kami Rice, freelance writer
Earlier this summer (when it still was summer, which, no matter what the calendar says, it hasn’t been since September 1st brought us cool mornings and evenings) I was excited to discover my new favorite-for-the-moment coffeehouse in Brentwood, Tennessee. It’s a Grind is only a short drive from my house, and it’s even a pretty drive through some less-developed sections of Wilson Pike and Moore’s Lane East, past a red-doored and red-roofed white barn that matches the old farmhouse set further back from the road. Alas, the cows in the field below the house are normal cow colors and aren’t buying into the farm’s red and white color scheme.
Several other coffeehouses are located nearer my house, but I already spend enough of my week in Starbucks, so I am always glad to explore the varied personalities of alternative coffee hangouts. Some days you just need a certain kind of coffeehouse, the same way you might have different friend preferences depending on the day. Recall the days you’re just not in the mood for Suzy’s excitable, rambling storytelling and instead prefer the laid-back mellowness of Joan. But other days, the weather is depressing enough without adding the effect of Joan’s melancholy. On those days, Suzy is sure to bring cheer. That’s how coffeehouses work, too.
Part of my excitement in discovering It’s a Grind was that I thought it was a nice little locally-owned establishment, you know, one of those home-grown types that offers the charm of really being from the small town you’re living in. I am not an avid anti-chain-store activist who despises anything with a corporate logo attached to it. Business done well can offer a whole lot of good, whether that business is small or large. I do despair, though, over that unfortunate by-product of the chain-retail reality of our lives: the homogenizing of our communities.
Seriously, when your travels take you to Greenville, Illinois, or to Paris (France or Tennessee, the question works with either) do you really want to visit the exact same stores you can shop in in your own hometown? I mean, sure, it’s great when you’re returning Great Aunt Ethel’s Christmas gift (because she forgot that you’re no longer five), but when you’re really traveling, out to get to know the place you’ve stopped off in, you really don’t want to find out that it’s just like the place you came from, do you?
I had enjoyed the nice It’s a Grind vibe several times before I decided I should do a little research on my new favorite coffeehouse. I didn’t have to look further than the coffeehouse’s Web site to find the incriminating evidence: the word “FRANCHISE” and, somewhere near that word, the words “California” and “Missouri.” Aw, man. Foiled. It wasn’t as nice and little and locally-owned as I thought. In retrospect, maybe it did seem little too together, a little too complete, a little too professional to be the labor of love of a newbie to the club of coffeehouse owners. In my excitement, though, I had ignored all the signs of mass production.
Earlier in the days of my barista career, two of the 5,000 drinks I made one day were for a father and daughter. They’d come to Nashville for a concert to celebrate the young teen’s birthday. Using the chatty way of baristas and people who like other people, I learned that they were from Louisville while I wrote a nice “Happy Birthday!” on the girl’s cup.
The father explained that he owned a couple independent coffeehouses. Knowing that rumor has it that indies are sometimes forced out when Starbucks moves to town, I think I asked some probing question about said rumor. He must not be too mad at Starbucks, since he’d just pulled out his wallet at a Starbucks register, but I wanted to see what he had to say. His reply surprised me. He energetically explained that he was really glad for Starbucks. Because Starbucks has trained people to pay good money for good coffee, he’s able to make a coffeehouse business work. What a nice little warm fuzzy that provided: We’re really all on the same team! Yippee! It’s really not us versus the little guys!
Most likely that guy is right, and there really is a place for everyone in the coffeehouse family, whether chain or franchise or independently-owned. And, because of that large extended family, full of all kinds of personalities, chances are high that around Williamson County, at least, you’ll usually be able to find a coffee place that suits the day’s mood.
Still, at the risk of being just a bit of a traitor, I’ll admit that I expect always to get a little extra excited when I discover a new one-of-a-kind coffeehouse. Just like that farm with the cows that don’t match, it’s the not-quite-perfect, incongruous place that usually exudes the most personality while welcoming us with a big, flabby, but incredibly comfortable hug.
Kami Rice lives in Brentwood, Tennessee and rarely experiences a dull moment. If, however, you need to be rescued from a dull moment, you can check out her teeny, tiny corner of the blogosphere: The Coffeehouse Journals. Contrary to all appearances, Kami does have a life outside coffee.