On Saturday, Michael Wyatt at Full City Rooster in the Cedars opened his roastery and coffee shop’s now-quiet 800 square-foot back room. Previously, you could sit and nurse a latte under moose head taxidermy. But not in the coronavirus age in which restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, too, have been forced to closed dining areas to curb the spread of the virus.
Nevertheless, Wyatt put his small space to great use: Full City Rooster has become a collection-point and storage space for boxes of gloves and masks for first responders and healthcare providers.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about the need for masks and rubber gloves—that supplies have been running dangerously low at hospitals. There’s a lot of information [out there] about this shortage and communities in other places banding together—professionals like dentists and carpenters [donating protective gear],” he says.
Wyatt immediately began converting his space, in the hopes that restaurants, bars, and other temporarily shuttered businesses might drop off boxes of unused equipment, which he’ll donate to local hospitals or the Stewpot homeless shelter, which he heard was also in need of personal protection equipment.
“We’re using the space for donations, whether it’s going to be food taken to the food bank or gloves or masks. We want to use our space as a hub for collecting and distributing,” even as the landscape shifts for the coffee shop. The back patio, meanwhile, will begin its life, starting next weekend, as a pick-up point for market fare from Bonton Farms—an easy pick-up for those wanting to avoid grocery stores. (Or, hey, go straight to the source in South Dallas, just maintain a safe distance between fellow shoppers.)
A week ago, Full City was adjusting its occupancy rate, voluntarily bringing it down to 50 percent Saturday, when coffee shops were still allowed to operate normally, then another 50 percent that Sunday for precaution’s sake. By Tuesday, the city-wide ban on dine-in service meant takeout only for them, with no servingware, no creamer pitchers, and scrupulous disinfection after every transaction. (Full City went straight to disinfection rather than sanitation ratios of cleaner.)
Customers are still able to get take-away coffee.
“I believe that we’re all seeking normalcy right now,” Wyatt says. “We need our routines. More than ever. I believe that our social needs are just as important as food and water. And I’m happy to be a catalyst for that. I don’t believe that I have to be the sole provider. But I like to be a catalyst of it.”
As for lifting the soul through music, he’ll have a performer play his acoustic guitar in days to come while customers stop in for coffee to go. “He’ll be playing live in the back of the shop,” Wyatt says. “Anything we can do to support each other.”
Kyle Simmons, education coordinator on the tiny team at Noble Coyote Coffee in Expo Park, had to cancel his regular Saturday morning coffee education class as public congregating ceased.
“I think everyone’s initial reaction [across the coffee shop world], and I think it’s fairly natural, was, ‘Oh, we have to shut down.’” But, he says, “The decision very early was, ‘We’re gonna find a way to bring people together,’” he says.
The front room turned into a filming studio. Simmons had never done a Facebook Live post or streamed a class. “I was looking up YouTube videos online, we had a little webcam sitting in a closet. We had some lighting we use for product shots.”
Saturday’s 45-minute class—which he centered around the basics of home brewing, including using a Mr. Coffee—reached 750 Facebook users (“which is just mind-blowing to me,” Simmons says). “We had interactions with 200-some-odd; and while we were actually live, we had 30 people at any given time.” Usually, classes in the shop are capped at 12 attendees. Questions, taken from the chat, were answered. A poll thrown into the chat revealed that almost every virtual attendee’s coffee at home came from Africa. “So I think I maybe wanna do a live class on African coffee,” Simmons says. “We’re all pivoting our roles to ‘What can we actually do to connect with people?’”
He’s hoping for coffee cocktail tutorials and even interviews. “We have so much time to allocate right now,” as everyone on the four-person shop team shifts into a different, new role. On some level, he says, “We’ve always been limited in time and space.” Now they have both.
Silver linings are there for the seer.
“Every day feels weird. I know that I have moments every day where you kinda get a little bit of perspective and you think, ‘This is insane.’ But you use that feeling to do something new. [We’re] trying not to focus on ‘We can’t serve,’” Simmons says. “I hope that everybody can find ways to keep doing what they love to do. For a lot of small businesses, they started it out of a passion. And of course it’s hard to keep that passion when you’re doing things like order fulfillment and payroll. This is the time when you really have to let the passion take over.”
“If you don’t do anything, the despair catches up with you.”
According to Shannon Neffendorf, Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters and sister business Davis Street Espresso were already looking to create a “convenience store reimagined” for its employees, who might be able to purchase the nut butters, granola, and other products using the olive oil or honey, the almonds and pecans from local farmers, sourced for the shop. The shut-down was a catalyst to make the pantry public as Cliffmade Pantry, launched today. Now the operation provides bread, milk, eggs, scone and cookie dough, and chocolate.
This, like many of OCCR’s growth, was a natural extension.
“To use this tension, this anxiety, as a catalyst for creativity. That’s been our ethos and approach and how we’ve existed as a business for 12 years,” says Neffendorf.
And flowers were serendipitously looped into that. Tomorrow, Oak Cliff Coffee will give away free bouquets to pantry customers that represent the entire harvest of blooms from the half-acre that constitute Everbloom Fields owner Sarah Jo Eversole’s now-threatened livelihood. Growers like Eversole are not included under the umbrella of essential services, nor does the shelter-in-place directive make concessions for agricultural farming (instead, only food-producing farming). This leaves a massive gap for flower growers to fall through. (Other county orders and provisions have addressed agricultural farming, a distinction that acknowledges flower growers’ vulnerability.) She delivered to Burgundy’s Local, but will no longer be able to do that.
Meanwhile, ranunculus and anemones are giving way to poppies and snapdragons.
Almost all Eversole’s crops will be blooming prolifically until the end of May. Fall’s dahlia tubers need to be bought, June’s bloom seeds purchased and sown, and with flower growers’ profit margins as small as they are, each bloom matters. Every few days, she’ll have hundreds of blooms on stems. And she faces no sales outlet.
“He’s buying every single bloom and flower” blooming today, she says of Neffendorf, who simply called and asked if there were any flowers she couldn’t sell. “That was huge, huge, huge,” she says, her voice catching. Neffendorf, meanwhile, simply says people need blooms right now, and he has a space and business that can try to help ease the tremendous pressure bearing down on others.
Both a beautiful—and meaningful—gesture. “Milk, bread, eggs” is how Neffendorf conceived of the essentials he wanted to make available through the convenience-store model that might alleviate grocery-store nightmares. Or milk, bread, eggs, and something for the soul.
“Our business will be okay for probably another month,” Eversole says, “but if it goes longer than that, we probably won’t have enough to sustain it and we won’t be able to plant. So not knowing the duration is the hardest part.”