What makes Grounded Coffee Co., in Willimantic, different from your ubiquitous coffee chain?
It starts with how they get the beans.
“We work with roasters all over the East Coast who make exceptional coffee and who are also 100% invested in making sure the process of getting those coffee beans is ethical and the farmers are paid well,” said Tony Bachiochi ’15 (CAHNR), one of the shop’s co-founders.
The roasters they select specialize in a lighter, brighter coffee, so don’t walk into Grounded expecting a bitter dark roast. “It’s like beer or wine tasting,” he said. “For each coffee on our menu, we tell people what we taste—so they all taste like coffee, but maybe with hints of pear or berry or what have you.”
But when you first walk into the clean, cozy shop, you won’t notice the coffee’s origins right away—although you’ll be greeted by its heavenly scent. You’ll be offered a sample or two of the day’s featured roasts, where the barista will invite you to taste the nuances of each bean. They’ll listen to your preferences and make recommendations. And they’ll invite you to have a seat at one of their tables and stay a while.
“It’s more than buying a cup of coffee,” said Tony. “It’s an experience. That’s one of the things in a coffee shop like ours that differentiates us from the chains. It’s more than just buying a product. It’s a meeting place.”
How Grounded was founded
Like many new graduates, Tony was still figuring out what to do after earning his degree in resource economics when his brother, Steve, and his wife Victoria returned from a few years in Australia. Steve and Victoria wanted to recreate the homey coffee shops common in Australia right here in the Quiet Corner of the state—and promote local partnerships and ethical business practices, too. They found Nick Bentley, a coffee consultant in Mansfield, to help with purchasing. Nick later joined the group as the full-time bean expert.
“We’re all young and excited to start our own business,” says Tony, who graduated from UConn with a degree in resource economics from CAHNR. “And we saw a huge need for a good coffee shop in northeast Connecticut,” he said. “We saw that Willimantic is an historical town with a lot of potential. There’s a very close-knit community here.”
The former site of the Willimantic Victorian Society—a mid-nineteenth century building on Main Street complete with a three-sided fireplace and a brick patio perfect for bistro seating—became available for lease, and Grounded had a new home.
The longer you stay in the shop, the more you’ll notice all the ties to the local community. The shelves are made of reclaimed wood from Camp Horizons, a few miles away. The countertops are made from planks salvaged from a local farm’s horse fence, and the builder added wood from his own roof. Milk comes from Mountain Dairy in Storrs. Bagels come from Bagel One in Windham, and scones come from Not Only Juice, across the street.
With the mission of creating a meeting place in mind, the group began forming relationships with the local community at the Willimantic Farmer’s Market. “That was the first thing we did, and we really connected with customers,” said Tony. “That’s where it matters most. You start a good following in a place where people care about each other, and then you branch out.”
The group learned a lot about starting a small business in Connecticut—and as any entrepreneur can attest, there were more than a few challenges along the way. “But they’re just bumps in the road,” said Tony. “If you’re passionate about something and want to get it done, it’s worth doing.”
“At UConn, I learned a lot about agriculture, sustainability, marketing, and generally how agricultural companies do their business,” he said. But perhaps more importantly, he learned how to relate to new people. “I learned the Xs and Os of business, which was important, but UConn was great for those interpersonal connections—there are people from California, from India, from all over the world with different opinions and different cultural backgrounds, and that’s huge in terms of running even the smallest businesses. UConn is a melting pot of different people, and when I was there I learned from them—that’s what I’ve brought to the real world.”
Visit Grounded the next time you’re visiting campus or passing through the area. You’ll not only have some of the best coffee, tea, and espresso beverages around—you’ll be supporting one of our own Huskies and a whole community of Connecticut small businesses.