News of a Starbucks moving to the corner of Ferndale and Northwest Highway has many in the neighborhood defensive on behalf of their beloved, locally owned White Rock Coffee, located just a couple doors down from where the java giant’s dirt and building materials are flying. The recently razed Backus Shell station that occupied the spot more than 50 years seems all but forgotten.
But Starbucks isn’t alone in new construction here along the 10100 block of E. Northwest Highway. White Rock Coffee owners Nancy and Robert Baker are erecting a training center for WRC baristas in between their “mothership” and the incoming Starbucks.
“Our baristas undergo thorough training, some are certified at [the highest levels],” Nancy says. “We have outgrown the original building — it’s so busy, they are hopping from training to customers, too much.”
The training facility, which will inhabit an extensively renovated former cash-lending store, is slated to open sometime this spring. It will include office space and a conference room and will be equipped with the latest gadgets and state-of-the-art espresso machines, “so the baristas can stay on the cutting edge of espresso/coffee technology,” Nancy says. Who knows, she adds, she and Bob might even launch classes for the public.
Parking conditions at this Northwest Highway locale, about the only regular complaint, should improve.
“We are aware it’s a little treacherous, parking, which is one reason we didn’t put another retail location there. We plan to maximize the lots for parking.”
Since opening 12 years ago White Rock Coffee has been steadily and mostly quietly expanding, launching the high-traffic double drive-thru location at Mockingbird-Abrams five years ago, and, more recently, a location inside Children’s Medical Center’s Bright building.
The Bakers own three additional operations in Lake Highlands — a commercial bakery, a commercial roaster and a warehouse, which makes stocking the retail outlets convenient. These are not open to the public, but Nancy suggests she could conceive of an eventual catering arm.
The humble family coffee company with its addictive elixirs and pastries — where the Bakers’ kids Lindsey McMullen, now a married lawyer, and William, now a junior at the University of North Texas, cultivated their barista and hospitality-business skills — is growing and developing, in major ways.
But Starbucks at last count in 2016 had more than 25,000 stores worldwide and 11,600 or so in the United States.
Of all the vacant lots in all the towns, why did Starbucks have to come to this one? That is what some neighborhood residents wonder.
“Dear Starbucks going in around the corner,” notes a fan of the WRC Facebook page, “you don’t stand a chance against the best coffee and crew not just in Dallas, but all of Texas.” That one set off a series of similar praises. “I would never choose Starbucks if a WRC is anywhere within a 5-mile radius. The House Blend remains the best coffee I have ever had, anywhere. I stopped putting cream and sugar in my coffee when I started drinking this blend years ago because it’s too good all by itself.”
“Starbucks may look nice but it’s just for the uninformed masses flying down Northwest Highway, and those in the know coming down Ferndale will get their award-winning WRC,” notes Advocate reader Brian Maupin. “I think it will make WRC even cooler as the independent local with the contrast.”
Others add optimistically that the Starbucks might draw more morning commuters to the area, thus boosting WRC’s bottom line.
Nancy says she just “can’t put into words what that [love] means to us. Lake Highlands has been, since the beginning, a wonderful, intensely loyal neighborhood that has supported small local business.” This is home, she continues, the neighborhood where she attended Lake Highlands Elementary, Junior High and High schools; where her children graduated from the same high school; where she and Robert live today, in the L Streets; where her father, on the shore of White Rock Lake, proposed to her mother.
So what does she think about the coffee empire that added some 1,600 locations in 2016 coming to home turf, competing with her family’s business?
It would be disingenuous to blow it off or say she isn’t bothered, she says. “You know, as a business owner it is concerning that a large, deep-pocket chain is going in two doors down,” she says. “But you’ve seen the comments. Everyone is loyal.”
She can’t help but think a little about some locally grown operations squeezed out, she says, when chains moved in nearby.
“I don’t take it personally though. They don’t know. Just someone in Seattle or somewhere looking at an empty lot and the surrounding demographics. They probably don’t count on us being here or impacting them.”
Rather than dwell on what might happen, she and Robert and the 45 employees of White Rock Coffee will keep focusing on top-tier customer and wholesaler experiences and the fine art of coffee roasting and baking pastries from scratch, she says. They plan to bloom — sturdy and robust in patiently tilled soil, nurtured by fans and friends and lord knows how many cups of that WRC House Blend— and see a bright future for their business.
“We’re in expansion mode,” Nancy says, “Always looking at new locations within our orbit, the White Rock area.”
A version of this story first appeared on Jan. 12 on advocatemag.com.