After two Black men were arrested just for sitting and waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia Starbucks in April 2018, many Blacks started pushing for the support of Black-owned coffee shops. Luckily for Kelly Carter, she had just opened Grind & Wine six months earlier in Randallstown, Maryland, about 30 minutes northwest of Baltimore. But that wasn’t the reason the former marketing and advertising executive decided to venture into the hybrid coffee shop/wine bar arena.
“I’m the executive director of the Liberty Road Business Association and I was listening to people say when we had events or meetings, there was a lack of sit-down restaurants. So I started thinking, ‘What can I do to make this happen?’ And I feel like the timing was ordained by God because my father died of leukemia and my sister and I was left money to do something with,” explains Carter.
Carter and her partners, Robert and Leroy Friend, decided to open a restaurant that the community needed and could be proud of. “And I thought, ‘I love coffee and I love wine. But what do they both share in common?’ And then I thought, ‘You have to grind both of them, coffee beans and grapes.’ So that’s how I came up with the name, Grind & Wine,” Carter shares.
Setting the Atmosphere
As soon as you walk into Grind & Wine, a team member welcomes you with a friendly smile and asks if it’s your first time here. But even if it is your first time, it feels familiar, like you’re relaxing in your living or dining room. The seating is cozy with a library area that includes comfortable chairs, ottomans and shelves of books. And the decor is very feng shui, with relaxing neo-soul and jazz music playing softly in the background.
Diners are usually 35 years and older, and 85 percent of them are women. “They are neighborhood residents and business owners, as well as tourists from downtown and out of town,” says front end manager Kay Fisher. “They find out about us through word of mouth and our Facebook and Instagram pages, where we send out daily announcements about our Happy Hour specials. And that has worked very well for us.” Bartender and front end manager Paul McLewee adds, “Around 4 or 5 p.m. the bar will start to get full, so that’s when people usually come to have a drink and watch the big screen TV (on silent) or listen to the music. And boy do they love the music! It’s a very chill atmosphere.”
“Our customer reviews always say, ‘the atmosphere is amazing’ or ‘the atmosphere is warm and calming,’ so we decided to design a drink called Atmosphere,” Carter says. The drink is made with prickly pear, blue curacao, strawberries, peach pucker, sour mix, pineapple juice and the customer’s alcohol of choice. And there are drink specials every week. “Wednesdays we do two for one on our alcoholic beverages, two-part mixed drinks and wine,” adds Fisher. “During the Preakness Stakes, we had our Black Eyed Susan (Maryland’s state flower) special and we had different meals for each of the races that lead up to the Belmont Stakes. So we had a special featuring a meal and a drink for each race.”
Wine and Dine Time
But it’s the wines that really fly off the shelves, especially on Unwind Uncork Mondays when wines are two for one. “Our best sellers are 1000 Stories Zinfandel from Mendocino, California and the Zamora semi-sweet Cabernet Sauvignon from Israel,” notes Carter. Fisher adds, “We all came up with wine pairings for all of the items on the menu and that helps our customers to decide on what to have with their meals.”
Earlier in the day, it’s the coffee that sells, though Carter confesses they’re currently serving instant coffee with plans to have specialty coffees in the near future. But customers don’t mind waiting, because the food and atmosphere are enough to keep them coming back. Carter and her team have even gotten to know many patrons by name. “There’s one customer who always comes in shouting, ‘Hey, Kay, I brought somebody new with me this time,’” Fisher laughs.
Dr. Catherine Huggins-Gomes works out at a nearby gym and usually brings her fitness friends for lunch. “We love the atmosphere, the customer service and the cozy wine cellar area where you can sit privately and have a glass of wine. And my favorite menu item is the Cobb salad,” she announces.
Executive chef Ellis Benefield says the Cobb salad is one of the most popular menu items. “Our other top sellers are the shrimp linguini pasta, shrimp skewers, wings, which are double-baked, and our shrimp and grits,” he adds. “For our shrimp and grits, I cook stone-ground grits with a little chicken stock, a little blackened seasoning, butter and make sure they’re not too thick and not too runny. Then I marinate the shrimp in garlic, onion powder and oil and cook them in a pan with our trinity mix — yellow and orange peppers and green onions — and add a little white wine.”
And all of those savory dishes are topped off with sweet desserts from the bakery, where all of the addictive pastries are made on-site. “We have people who come on Sunday evenings who only come for the baked goods. They say it reminds them of their grandmother’s,” Carter says. Our pastry chef is like an old soul and she graduated top of her class,” she boasts.
“The favorites are the lemon cake — also my favorite — and the Princess cupcake which is a vanilla cupcake with raspberry jam on the inside, cream cheese icing on top and toasted almonds on top of the icing,” describes pastry chef Simone Sherman. “But hands down the carrot cake blows everything else out of the water! Some people come here just for the carrot cake and if I’m in the process of making it, they’ll wait for it. There are ten slices per cake and we can sell 10 – 12 whole cakes a week,” she says.
Expanded Ahead of Plans
The weekends are the busiest days for pastry sales as well as dine-in customers, with church groups, book clubs and tourists filling the 55-seat restaurant for Sunday brunch. But during the week, many come on their lunch break, order takeout, or sit in and work on their computers.
“People come and sit here for hours. It’s been a challenge for us because they’re so comfortable and we may need to turn the table, but we don’t want to disturb them, so we still struggle with that. And on Friday nights we’re so crowded we have to turn customers away. And we hate turning people away,” laments Carter.
The plan was to expand three or four years after opening, but the crowds, mostly from word of mouth, have forced Carter to expand the restaurant sooner as part of Grind & Wine’s second-anniversary celebration. “We expect our expansion to be complete in early November,” shares Carter adding, “I want to create a Social Sunday with spoken word or a quiet, light jazz quartet. But no DJ because I don’t want a nightclub atmosphere.”
Those ideas will add to the chillness of the restaurant, but there’s another reason the restaurant has such a cool and positive vibe. “They have motivational sayings on the walls and the coffee cups have scriptures on them, such as ‘Let your faith be bigger than your fears’ (Philippians 4:13) and being a Christian, I really love that,” proclaims Huggins-Gomes.
Carter reveals, “They just put the sheetrock up next door for our expansion. And I printed up scriptures and laminated them and posted them to the concrete walls, so they’re under the sheetrock. So, anybody who comes behind us and tears this building down, they’ll see the scriptures in the doorway, the dining room, my office and the kitchen and they’ll know who we were and what we were about.”
It’s her spirituality that has guided Carter through the process of starting, running and expanding Grind & Wine. “There’s a verse in the Bible that says ‘Write the vision and make it plain, though it may tarry it will come.’ So I have a vision board and I also would come in here before the building was renovated and close my eyes and envision hearing sounds from the kitchen, customers glasses and plates clinking and the smells of the aromas from the food. So, I’d sit here and communicate with God,” Carter testifies. “And it’s exciting to see how this is all unfolding. I encourage all little girls of color to follow their dreams. It doesn’t matter how big they are. If you believe it, it can happen.”
Grind & Wine is located at 3627 Offutt Road, Randallstown, Maryland. To stay up to date on Grind & Wine’s expansion and events, visit them online at www.grindandwine.com as well as on Facebook or Instagram.
Here’s a shortlist of other Black-owned coffee shops within the U.S.:
Backatown Coffee Parlour — New Orleans, LA
Beyú Caffè, Durham, N.C.
Dovecote Cafe, Baltimore, MD
Red Bay Coffee — Oakland, CA
Sankofa Cafe Washington, D.C.
Sip & Savor — Chicago, IL
Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, Philadelphia, PA
Urban Grind — Atlanta, GA