If you’re looking for a place for a cup of coffee without the pretentiousness and hype, there is a new spot in Santee to check out. Friendly Grounds Coffeehouse, located in the same center as the Santee Library, had it’s grand opening on February 26, complete with ribbon cutting ceremony and enough java to keep you awake through the next 10 sessions of Congress. The coffeehouse actually opened on December 19, 2007, but decided to wait until now for the Grand Opening ceremonies. And if today was any indication, they should be around for quite some time.
Now, first my disclaimer – I am not now, nor have I ever been a coffee drinker. I love the smell of a good cup of coffee, but I’ve never been able to develop a taste for it. That being said, I know there are a lot of people out there who truly enjoy their coffee, and if you like the drink and want something more friendly and open than the “Big S,” then do check Friendly Grounds out. Friendly Grounds Coffeehouse (or FGC from here on out) is a community-oriented coffee shop. It is run by The Carpenter’s House, a local church that is part of the much larger International Pentecostal Holiness Church, and their goal is to provide a place for people to gather, share fellowship, enjoy the community feel, and perhaps get a little closer to God. I will say right now that, true to their stated intent, they do not hit you over the head with religion when you come in. But enough about that for now.
The ceremony included an invocation by Steve Cofer, the Director of Coffeehouse Ministries, and a ribbon cutting by Santee Council Member Brian W. Jones. Also in attendance were current Chamber of Commerce President Phil Simon, Past President (2006) Ike Enzenauer, Richard and Hartha Jackson, editors of the Santee ECHO, and Chamber Office Assistant Kelly Almack.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you walk in is the openness of the layout. The coffee bar area takes up a minimum of space – in fact, I was surprised at how many workers could fit back there without knocking each other over. The main seating area includes various sizes of tables – from intimate tables for two up to tables for six – and also has some very comfortable-looking couches. Very unusual for a coffee shop, but in keeping with the family- and community-friendly atmosphere, FGC has a children’s area that is partitioned off by a small white picket fence. Inside are toys, games, and other items to keep young ones entertained while their parents enjoy their coffee in relative peace. Also different is the music – they have an area where live performers can play to entertain the customers and crew. And for you TV junkies, they have a big screen television set on closed caption so you can get your fix without disturbing anyone else (unless you really get into weather reports, or whatever else they might have on at the time). FGC also has two side rooms – a college study room with full-window walls and free Wi-Fi access, and a conference room that can be, and often is, used for community groups like Bible study (which the church holds every Sunday), sports teams, and others. Either of these rooms can be reserved simply by purchasing a FGC gift card and scheduling it with the managers.
This brings me to the people at Friendly Grounds Coffeehouse. Gary and Pat Craft, the managers, are two of the friendliest people you’ll meet around. Pat is the dynamo – always on the move, always getting things done. Gary seems more of the organizer/director type. Of course, that might just have been the impression I got today. But in spite of the activity of a grand opening, neither was too busy to stop and talk to me or to any of the others there. The rest of the team was equally pleasant and helpful, from the counter people to Milt, the barista.
Last, but certainly not least, is their menu. They have a variety of espresso-based coffee drinks, served hot or iced, and a selection of teas. Their specialty is the Friendly Mocha – espresso with white chocolate and steamed milk, drizzled with caramel, topped with whipped cream, and drizzled with more caramel. Sounds almost good enough to get me to try coffee – almost, but not quite. The do have a very nice chai latte for the tea crowd, as well as a selection of scones, muffins, and other pastries. The coffee is provided by a company called Crimson Cup out of Columbus, Ohio, that focuses on working with independent and small group coffee houses. Coffee from Ohio? you might say – well, as the company points out, they don’t grow coffee in Seattle either.
I did read one other review of FGC that complained about the lighting – standard-issue strip fluorescent lights. I can see where that could be a detriment for some people, but I doubt that most of the people who visit this establishment will be overly concerned. And that is something they can probably make changes in later if they feel the need. For now, what they offer is a comfortable, spacious, friendly place to meet for coffee or just to take a break in your busy day. If you need something to read with your coffee, the library is just a few doors away, and if you get hungry there are some restaurants there as well. So check them out, and let me know if you have as much fun as I did.