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DIVERSIFICATION BREWED: Five years into running Common Grounds Coffee & Cafe in Strafford, Michelle Eden is starting a new floral shop and refurbished furniture business next door.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
DIVERSIFICATION BREWED: Five years into running Common Grounds Coffee & Cafe in Strafford, Michelle Eden is starting a new floral shop and refurbished furniture business next door.

Business Spotlight: Uncommon Comeback

Common Grounds Coffee & Cafe overcomes 2018 fire and now looks to diversify

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When a fire broke out in August 2018 in the building next door, Common Grounds Coffee & Cafe LLC in Strafford narrowly escaped a complete loss.

As it happened, Michelle Eden’s business took significant smoke damage, enough to shutter the cafe for more than two months.

In addition, the fire impacted two other businesses in the building she owns – both with connections to Eden. One was Papaw’s Kookies & Kream Ice Cream Parlor LLC, owned by her father, Denis George, and the other was Allie Mae’s Bakery LLC, which rents kitchen space and provides breads and pastries for Common Grounds.

“It shut my business down for 10 weeks and shut my dad’s business down,” she says, noting his parlor had only been open one day before the fire.

The fire originated in the front of the vacant building next door, with officials determining rags with tung oil on them combusted to ignite the blaze. Eden said the rags were used to finish the flooring for her dad’s business.

“We were deemed the cause, which was deemed an accident,” she says. “It was a huge learning lesson for us and very painful because I did not have the insurance policy I should have had.”

Her policy didn’t contain loss of income or general liability on her building that she needed to cover all three businesses.

Still, Common Grounds came back to finish 2018 strong, earning over $106,000 in revenue – its biggest year yet. She estimates the shop would have surpassed $120,000 if open for the full year.

“We’ve seen an increase every year, which has been fantastic,” she says of Common Grounds’ sales.

First brew
Beginning in 2013, Eden and her husband, James “Bobby” Eden, worked for a year on renovating the former Strafford Farm and Feed store at 100 E. Pine St. The couple purchased the 3,200-square-foot building from Steve Bodenhamer, former Strafford city administrator, and Eden estimates spending $135,000 in startup costs.

A physical therapist for 15 years, Eden says she was ready for a career change when the coffee shop idea popped into her head.

“I felt like the Lord called me to do it. It’s my hometown. I graduated high school from here,” she says. “It was probably a two-year process before I realized it wasn’t just in my crazy head.”

Eden says she’s learned about coffee along the way and now has become a bit of a coffee connoisseur. She purchases from Battlefield-based Copper Canyon Coffee Roasters, estimating weekly wholesale orders of a five-pound bag of house blend and two five-pound bags of espresso, along with a few one-pound retail bags of coffee.

Serving food wasn’t in the original plan, but it’s been a part of the business since day one. Eden says food service has been a hit, especially at lunchtime with paninis, homemade soups and salads on the menu. She says the sales split is probably 65% food and 35% coffee.

Scott Caldwell, sales consultant with Reinhart Foodservice LLC, has been a product supplier for Common Grounds for about four years. While declining to disclose the cost of the business orders, Caldwell says he makes weekly deliveries to the shop, including its meats, cheeses, produce, herbs, spices and general restaurant supplies, such as to-go cups and plates.

“The energy they have in the place is just amazing,” he says. “It’s a tremendous comeback story.”

In the kitchen, Debbie Rich, owner of Allie Mae’s Bakery, has rented space from Common Grounds since day one. She says Eden purchases roughly $1,200 monthly for her products, which include croissants, scones, cinnamon rolls, biscuits and several varieties of bread for the paninis.

Rich, who met Eden at a SCORE business networking meeting prior to the coffee shop’s launch, says she also does custom orders.

“It’s very economical to not have the overhead of my own shop,” she says. “(Eden) honors that it’s my business. It’s not just a kitchen rental; it’s a business and I’m very thankful for that.”

New connections
As for the building next door where the 2018 fire originated, Eden now owns it. She plans to start a new business venture there.

She and her husband are renovating the 4,400-square-foot space to open Pine & Picks LLC, a combined floral shop and refurbished furniture store. With funding by a $260,000 U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loan, Eden said the business could be up and running before year’s end.

For Eden, it all fits into creating a place for community.

Part of her connection is made by allowing Common Grounds to be rented out for events, including baby and bridal showers, at a flat rate of $75 per hour. She says there are typically two or three events held in the space each month.

“The whole vision of the thing was to provide a place for the community to come hang out,” she says. “Sometimes, you get bogged down with all the business aspects of it and stressed out. Then there’s days where you see people enjoying each other’s company in here and it makes it worth it.”

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