By Dana Kroll, Uptown Marketing and Communications Specialist
For every hot new establishment to call Uptown home (and they’re always popping up), there’s another which has done so for years and years – helping to create the very foundation that our newcomers are able to build upon. We feel that it’s that particular mix of “old” and “new” that is a key ingredient to creating an urban environment that is at once established and lovingly well-worn, while at the same time exciting and fresh. Another fun riff on this concept is when a local business is BOTH. When it has been around long enough, and proven to be beloved enough, to have not just stood the test of time. But to have evolved and grown up, right alongside our district as a whole. Today, we’re sharing about an East Fulton coffee house named Common Ground, which is both one of GR’s oldest coffee shops in existence, and yet now freshest, given its recent new ownership and makeover. Check this out.
Common Ground Coffee House first opened in the early 1990’s and for anyone keeping track, that was around thirty years ago (gasp). From the beginning, the shop strove to be forward in its approach. An inclusive place where all were welcome. It was Grand Rapids’ first internet café. It also won interior décor awards, when the concept of a comfortable place to cozy up with a laptop for some remote work, was still a very new idea.
The shop continued to be a popular place to grab a cuppa and meet with friends. Meanwhile, time went on, and eventually, a discussion led to a friendship led to a relationship and an opportunity, between a previous business owner and new one. Enter Dan Rios.
We recently had a chance to converse with Dan for awhile on his vision for Common Ground, and after our talk, we are confident that he is the perfect guy to take this favorite establishment forward into its next chapter.
Dan is a veteran of hospitality management in Grand Rapids, having worked for many years at another beloved GR staple, The Cottage Bar, located downtown. In his time there, and as he became networked with fellow West Michigan hospitality folks, he began to keep his ear to the ground for opportunities to take his career next level. During this time, he met his wife, became a dad (twice!), and started a journey that over the course of about five years, eventually culminated into just what he was looking for.
The deal was made official, and in June of 2021 – the very midpoint of pandemic shutdowns and uncertainties – Dan took ownership. Undaunted, he dove in and right away began making updates to the shop’s bar and counter space. He continued the work needed to freshen the interior, and the space today is bright, fresh, and inviting while still keeping that cozy feeling of a spot well-loved and easy to sink into. The walls are a cheery yellow, the furnishings are contemporary but comfy; and old faves remain too (the suit of knight’s armor on display still stands proud). And Dan has more ideas to build upon. He’s got an app and a website update in the works so that coffees and goodies can be even more accessible, and an exterior refresh to the building is on its way too.
With all of these exciting changes, Dan is also keenly aware that there is a great deal of worth in maintaining traditions. While the offerings will continue to expand (the menu has grown and now offers breakfast sandwiches as well as additional goodies and pastry on weekends), the coffee remains fresh, delicious, locally roasted, organic and fairtrade, just as it always has been. The team includes new employees and employees who have seen the brand through its new ownership, and they’ve helped to ensure that the shop has kept its friendly, generous, and inclusive vibe (they keep the day’s plant clippings on the windowsill, watered and ready to be taken home for free).
Best of all, while the shop seeks to be a new favorite hang for the next generation, it is still the place for some of GR’s longest standing meetups of “regulars,” too. As they have been for more Sundays than we could even guess, Common Ground is home to both GR’s largest morning coffee-and-ride biker meetup AND afternoon drop-in chess matches. These are just a few examples.
Common Ground Coffee House is open seven days a week and, whether you are a native Uptowner or a visitor, should be on your list for a coffee and a space to sit and experience the comfort and local flavor of one of our city’s favorite spots.