Ball Square’s True Grounds coffee shop was named the 2004 Best Coffee Shop in the city by the readers of The Somerville News.
The shop is striving to put out the city’s best coffee and change the way people think about eating in Ball Square, said Amy L. Thiebault, who owns the coffee shop with Rhett A. Richard. “It’s like breakfast mania around here.”
“People get fidgety when they don’t get their eggs,” she said.
Inside True Grounds customers lounge on leather couches and read the shop’s magazines or the day’s news. Others sit around tables and watch as Ball Square passes by the large windows open to the street.
All the while, Thiebault and Richard work steadily, together behind the long, tiled counter tending to the espresso machine and the sandwich grill, calling out B-Square on seven grain, and handing a sandwich to a young lady just up from her computer.
“We see our customers coming into the store and if we know them we’re getting their order ready before they get to the counter,” said Thiebault.
Thiebault perfected that level of service working as general manager for Carberry’s in Arlington. “It was a way for me to see if I could manage everything, sort of oversee the whole operation,” she said.
Her commitment to quality of service and a good product paid off for Carberry’s; sales were up and customer satisfaction was exceptional, she said. One of her customers even wrote to the local Arlington paper praising her staff.
She learned that customers respond to quality service as well as quality of product, she said. She also came to understand that she had what it takes to operate her own café. That’s about the time she met Richard.
“Our relationship just clicked, he was back office and I was front of house,” she said.
Richard was working for Carberry’s as the corporate comptroller when he met Thiebault.
Richard said he moved to Boston from Tampa to work as a certified public accountant with PKF, a business consulting firm, in 1998. After three weeks, however, he was finished. “When you know it’s not a good fit, you know.”
From there he went to work as a business manager for House of Blues, and then to Carberry’s where he decided he wanted something of his own, he said.
“I eventually realized I was going to leave Carberry’s, and I mentioned to Amy’s roommate that I was looking for my own place,” he said.
Richard said his dad was the one who finally pushed him to become an entrepreneur.
“He said: ‘Get serious about finding you own space,’ so we did,” he said.
The two joined forces and began seriously scouting New England for a space. The search for the right market, the right space and feel, drove them from Northampton, Amherst and Jamaica Plain, and all the way up to Portland, Maine, they said.
Then, one morning while Thiebault was eating breakfast in Ball Square, she noticed that two businesses, right next door to one another, were up for sale.
“The pizza place and Lovin’ Spoonful both had for sale signs in their windows,” Richard said.
They were not sure if they had the resources to rent both spaces but knew one alone was too small.
They were not sure if the city had room for another café, even though Somerville was gaining a reputation as a coffee lover’s haven. “The Somerville market seemed saturated,” he said.
But Ball Square had potential as an untapped market. “18 years ago, Ball Square was a happening spot,” Thiebault said.
The square used to boast a jazz club and movie theater, she said. And with the new restaurants slated to come in, the fine wine shop and the buzz around the square, they heard the opportunity to make a success of their vision knocking.
So they jumped, and March 22 True Grounds opened for business, she said.
In addition to the service, the décor and the amenities like wireless Internet, a successful café that keeps you coming back has to make good coffee, she said.
One of the keys to good coffee is the quality of the roasted beans, said Thiebault. True Grounds chose to buy their beans from America’s premiere roaster, George Howell.
“He’s been in the business for over thirty-five years and is considered the best roaster in America,” said Thiebault.
Beans alone don’t add up to much. The brewing process is just as important to the final product, she said.
“George’s staff comes in all the time to fine-tune our process and make sure we’re doing things right,” she said.
“They’ve told us we’re brewing the best cup of coffee in the area,” she said.
Ball Square is changing, Richard said. New restaurants, new stores and new people are bringing the square back to life.