Small but growing Dallas coffee-cafe chain Ascension Coffee has not gone unscathed by the coronavirus: They closed the Thanksgiving Tower location in downtown Dallas on August 10, and the Willow Bend location in Plano in May.
But there's a lot of good things happening with this concept, including a new partnership with a famed bagel company from New York.
According to company president Bill Schaffler, Ascension will launch a bagel program with H&H Bagels, the legendary New York city bagel company that's been making bagels "Like No Other Bagel in the World," as their slogan goes, since 1972.
H&H ships its bagels around the country and is already for sale at Central Market stores. But the arrangement that Ascension has is unique: The bagels will arrive par-baked so that the coffee shops can do the final bake, resulting in a more authentic, less-stale bagel experience.
The program will begin in mid-September. Schaffler says they'll start small, just a couple of flavors.
"We'll have Plain and Everything bagels, and make our own cream cheese spreads," he says. "We wanted to provide a true New York bagel experience, and with ingredients being such a big factor, we felt like there was no substitution for getting them from New York."
Schaffler joined Ascension in 2019. He and founder Russell Hayward met back in the '90s when both worked with the Carlson Group's Emerging Brands, the hotshot division that founded restaurant concepts such as AquaKnox. Schaffler also worked for La Madeleine and was most recently CFO for Nothing Bundt Cakes.
Hayward is still on the board at Ascension but he's focused primarily on the beans: jetting around to plantations, meeting growers, and such. Very Russell.
Schaffler is overseeing daily operations. That includes expanding the patio at their Addison location, building a catering operation at their Crescent location, and significantly expanding the space at their Design District original.
"We're going to expand it by 1,500 feet," he says. "We're absorbing the space next-door that used to be occupied by a salon and taking the opportunity to expand the kitchen so we can offer off the menu items we've pioneered at our other locations in Addison and Cypress Waters, like bowls and sandwiches that we didn't have room to do."
They're also expanding the outdoor space, not so much for COVID-19-related concerns but because they have room for what he feels can be a lovely, larger patio area.
One promising sign is the quality of the pastry program they recently launched: They've partnered with Black Rooster Bakery from Fort Worth, easily one of the top two bakeries in DFW.
"We wanted to have the best baked goods in Dallas," Schaffler says. "The first thing was to get a pastry program we could be proud of. And if you know Black Rooster, you know how good they are."
Black Rooster makes deliveries to all five of their cafes — Design District, Addison, Crescent Court, The Star, and Cypress Waters — every day.
They get Black Rooster's killer plain, chocolate, and almond croissants, lemon-blueberry scones, and chocolate-espresso cookies, plus items exclusive to Ascension. For example, an espresso cruffin, the cruffin being the trendy pastry that's a cross between a croissant and a muffin.
"We're the only game in town for the espresso cruffin," Schaffler says. "It's a cruffin filled with tiramisu which is blended with our Levitate blend coffee."
"We also get seasonal cruffins like raspberry and pumpkin spice," he says. "We have a banana bread muffin, a craft coffee cake, and Aussie hand pies, that's Russell's legacy, he's from Australia, it's like an egg and sausage empanada, but with puff pastry, filled with egg, sausage, and cheese."
Fort Worth is not so far away that someone in Dallas couldn't drive to Fort Worth themselves for Black Rooster's goods — but it is surely convenient, maybe even essential, to have such treasures nearby.
"Ascension is a special brand," Schaffler says. "I feel like there's a lot we can do with it."