By Gale Fiege
Mix coffee grounds and a focus on coffee culture and you’ve got Social Grounds, a new coffee and tea shop with a social conscience in downtown Bothell.
Darren Armstrong, his wife Wendy and her sister Amy Marthaler are the owners of this new venture on the ground floor of a new apartment building located just south of the new McMenamin’s Anderson School and across Bothell Way from the new City Hall. The shop will hold a ribbon cutting from 12-1 p.m. on March 22.
It’s all new, but the mission at Social Grounds is classic coffee and old-style community participation.
Darren and Amy and Wendy are happy to be part of the Northwest dependence on coffee.
“Rain and coffee. It’s a natural. They go hand in hand,” Darren said. “Maybe it’s in our DNA.”
The shop not only was borne of that enjoyment of coffee, but also a desire to move away from the corporate world. Plus the reasoning that “life is too short, let’s do it.”
“The idea rose from the ashes of personal tragedy,” Darren said. “Wendy and Amy have experienced a challenging decade and this was a way for us to focus outside of ourselves.”
In 2004 Wendy was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Following chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she spent seven years in remission until being declared cancer free in 2011. But then she suffered a heart attack and underwent open-heart surgery.
Meanwhile, Amy was widowed in 2011 when her husband Kelly, a Cascade High School grad, died at the age of 35, leaving her to raise their young children alone.
So Wendy left her job in the mortgage business and Amy walked away from her position as a financial planner.
“I didn’t need to be in a cubicle. God did not want me there,” Amy said. “I needed people and a chance to minister to them.”
Active members of Gold Creek Community Church in Mill Creek, the sisters “stepped out in faith,” Darren said, “to share something they love: coffee. Most people would implode when faced with such tough times. What they have done is rare.”
Of the three, Darren has the most experience in the coffee industry, including as a roaster, having worked for years for Northwest coffee pioneer Phil Johnson at Millstone and then Cascade Coffee. For a few years in the 1990s Wendy ran a coffee shop on 128th Street and Amy had worked in a coffee shop.
Social Grounds is a natural platform for the trio to reach out to help others, they said. Fundraisers for cancer research, local food banks and combating homelessness are ongoing at the shop.
In addition, the owners of Social Grounds prides themselves on running what they call an “eco-cafe.” Reclaimed materials were used in the construction of the shop’s interior and furniture, most products served are organic and local, and the take-away cups are compostable.
What Darren, Wendy and Amy, hope, however, is that customers will sit around in the shop, drink lattes from the shop’s white pottery coffee cups and be social with each other.
“We purposely do not have a drive-through window because we want to slow the disconnect in our society,” Wendy said. “We’re old school in the sense that we are not trying to reinvent anything or rush anything. We just want to make a good cup of coffee.”
Social Grounds buys its Shen Zen tea from James Cheng in Bothell, its milk from Smith Bros. Farms, its baked goods from Bothell’s Hillcrest Bakery and the coffee beans from another Northwest coffee pioneer, Dave Stewart (Stewart Brothers Coffee, Seattle’s Best Coffee and now Vista Clara Coffee) in Snohomish. Most of it is grown in Central America and Ethiopia.
“We are mindful of what it takes to get the coffee in the cup. It’s a lot of labor for not much money, so we are supporting fair trade to give credit where it’s due,” said Wendy.
Sisters Wendy and Amy look forward each day to working together and to meeting new people.
“Social Grounds makes us happy,” Wendy said.