The Social Hour
EAT | DRINK
Before there was Facebook, there was the coffee shop. People were less focused on a screen, and more on the face in front of them. Yes, life without phones, tablets and laptops did exist around the 90s and prior. And you know what, few of those folks are still stuck in the 90s. They appreciate a conversation in person, rather than texting or Facebook Messenger. You’ve seen it. Think movie scenes, where in places like France and Italy people meet up at one of the coffee shops found on a side street, and talk for as long as possible. In real life, there are French and Italians doing just that. You’ve also experienced it. It has been an American tradition to meet up at a coffee establishment. When you want to hang out with someone to chat, or even go on a date, you find yourself at a coffee shop, right? There is no pressure in a space that is relaxed, and where food takes second to socializing.
So narrowing it down to East Texas, where can you go?
Here in East Texas, it has been a struggle to find a good, sit-down spot to just hang out. For the most part, our only option in the last decade or so has been to go out for drinks at a bar or Starbucks. Starbucks is great because it is a coffee shop where the atmosphere is like a chill zone. It is lively, relaxing and the coffee options are endless. But is it really a place to just meet some friends to pass the time? If you take note the next time you walk into a Starbucks, the interior is used more as a work space. People take advantage of the free wi-fi, good coffee, and, at times, quiet nature. If you see 2 or more people surrounding a table, it is for a study session or business meeting. Who can deny unlimited time for a work space, all in return for buying a Cup of Joe? So when you go in to hang out with friends, it’s not relaxing. You are too afraid that you may be loud for the studious ones, and unprofessional for the business types. What can you do and where can you go? Go check out your local Downtown!
You heard right. That “place where everything is old, shut down or torn down,” is actually a thriving area of the city. From Longview to Tyler, many small, creative, artsy and fun places are popping up in Downtowns. And get this, it is all local! Restaurants, breweries and coffee houses, there are quite a few places one can choose to simply go “hang out.” In Longview, people go to Silver Grizzly Espresso.
Silver Grizzly opened in November last year, and is the baby of Connor Walters, Vincent Purvis, Vance Freeman and David Samford. “We all grew up in this area. Some of us moved off at different times, but ended up coming back. Vincent and I lived here our whole life. I never really envisioned coffee as something I’d get into as a career. Mostly because there’s nothing like that here in Longview,” Connor recalled. “There were two primary drives for us to open up something here. We started having some late-night conversations. … We just traveled a bunch. We had been to a lot of places all over the world, seeing speciality coffee. We just loved the aesthetic of the places that would make you feel at home, and also connect you with those around you and in the community.” Thus the idea of Silver Grizzly Espresso grew into what it is today, a local coffee shop in Downtown Longview. “We wanted to give people a reason to stay (in Longview),” Walters added.
Silver Grizzly is nothing like anything else in Longview. The building, the look, the furniture, the coffee and even the name is unique to the city. “We spent months trying to come up with a name. Over the course of several months I’d look through a dictionary just looking for words. Every time we’d Google something, it would be taken,” Walters remembered. “Eventually we got to a point where we were like we need to take a more indirect route. We thought of creating an icon that was a symbol for our value set, not just for coffee but the community. My wife and I, we were passing through Yellowstone and saw a bear. It’s an experience you remember. It’s a rare occasion that you see a bear. They are majestic creatures, beautiful and pretty powerful. There’s value in seeing a creature. There’s value in the experience and why you remember it. So taking the bear, just the icon, kind of symbolizes it for us. We want to add value into the coffee, tea and pastries that we are serving. We want to add value into the conversations we have with people.”
On the idea of conversations, the coffee aficionados at Silver Grizzly pride themselves on having conversations with their customers, getting to know their customers and having their customers have conversations with each other. It’s a space for everyone and they want people to know that. “There are three primary descriptions of people that I see. One, people come in here for business meetings all the time. Second, half of the people that come in are for the conversations and to hang out with their friends and catch up. That’s a huge part of why this place exists. Having people connect more and ideas get shared. The third is that students come in to study,” Walters shared.
Silver Grizzly, truly, is a place for anyone. They even sell beer on tap and pastries. But apart from the space and food, any type of socializing can be done at Silver Grizzly. Before, teens and adults would struggle to find a place to go hang out. Most every skating rink in the Longview area is shut down. The city only has one bowling alley, which gets full on the weekends, and the only other place you could go to is a bar. Bars can get loud, rowdy and is a complete different vibe from a coffee house, if that is your scene. Then Silver Grizzly opened their doors, and now it has became a social atmosphere. It is equally quiet and lively. That may have to do with the structure of the building and a foundation built with bricks in the walls. Or maybe it is the way the seating has been set up, with booths for privacy, long tables to make new friends, and side tables for solo sessions or a one-on-one. They also have the back, open space that can be rented out to groups. People come to Silver Grizzly to meet in groups, play games and even study, all while the noise is never an issue. In Tyler, Strada Caffè is of similarity.
Strada Caffè was brought to Tyler by Octavio Téllez, whose passion to open his own coffee house started during his time as General Manager of Caffè Tazza. That was in 2008.
After four years there, Téllez took a break from the coffee industry, which he came back to in 2015. He partnered with his former assistant manager from Caffè Tazza, and developed Strada Caffè in Downtown Tyler. “The landlord had a vision for the location, and along with their architect Mike Butler, we were able to develop and design the concept. We wanted a very unique place for Tyler,” Téllez remembered. “The inside tables were made out of reclaimed bowling alley wood, and the outdoor tables came from an idea I saw at a rooftop bar in Mexico City. I put together a drawing to adapt that idea to our location using cedar, then handed those sketches to a friend, Jeff Alderman, who spent most of his spare time to make them.”
Strada Caffè opened their doors last year, and not only serves coffee, but breakfast, lunch and pastries also. Very different from a Starbucks, both Strada and Silver Grizzly are unique in coffee, space and vibes. From the moment you set your eyes on either building, it almost reminds you of something that would be in a city like Austin, TX. To open a shop in similarity was a risk for our smaller, more conservative cities of East Texas. “I don't even see us in the same playing field [with Starbucks]. I really don't ever bash Starbucks either. There's kind of what's called a first, second and third wave of coffee. The first wave is when coffee started getting into everybody's homes in the 60s and 70s. We all started doing Folger's and Maxwell House in coffee pots. Then Starbucks comes along (second wave) in the late 80s and early 90s and starts spreading across the whole country, and introducing the idea of lattes and cappuccinos. Maybe they're not making it the correct way, but the idea is in people's heads. The third wave then is that coffee starts coming along in the early 2000s and made its way to this area. A lot of these coffee houses started by paying attention to the farmer, the roaster and the brewing techniques, to make things the correct way," Walters shared.
The risk was one worth taking, because both coffee shops are doing well for themselves, up against the amount of Starbucks around East Texas. Not only has the uprise of local coffee houses been beneficial to the population, but also to the city. “People are now becoming more eager in supporting local businesses and building a community in unique spaces, especially those that offer healthy and high quality products. I think we all enjoy the idea of bringing life back to our Downtowns, so I am positive that we will see more and more businesses opening soon,” Téllez said. “A coffee shop is a place for everybody, whether you want to grab a Cup of Joe and a pastry in the early morning, spend a few minutes before work enjoying a more elaborate breakfast, while reading the paper, have lunch with friends in an inviting environment, or socialize in the afternoon while enjoying a latte and dessert,” Téllez added.
In order to keep thriving, bringing people together and bringing together the community, not that they are not already doing all of this, Silver Grizzly will host its first Barista Throwdown. “It's coming up in March. It's going to be the first one in the area. It's a super fun thing. You get the coffee houses from all over the area, just baristas and coffee houses from all over East Texas. We have a guy coming down from ONYX, from North Arkansas, and a few people coming down from Dallas. Everyone comes and throws down their best coffee art. You compete against each other. The top three people to place get different coffee prizes,” Walters explained. “We will have to shut down the Espresso Bar for the event, but will leave the beer taps open. That's the fun of it. Everyone can grab a beer and sit around to watch coffee get made. There's three primary designs: hearts, tulips and rosettas. Those are the three traditional designs. It's a lot of fun for people in the coffee community, and a lot of fun for people who come to your shop to see how it gets done.”
So next time one of your friends texts you to hang out, recommend visiting a local coffee house in Downtown, or going to the Silver Grizzly Barista Throwdown. You wont be disappointed. For more information, check out their Facebook. All photos were taken at Silver Grizzly Espresso in Downtown Longview.