It's coffee coffee everywhere. Everywhere around Dallas, that's for sure, where we're seeing a big wave of new coffeehouse openings. The latest specimen is Firewheel Coffee, a coffeehouse that opened November 16 on the George Bush Turnpike in scenic Garland, east of East Plano.
Firewheel does espresso drinks, teas, smoothies, chai, muffins and cookies. There is a large seating area with couches and — for those cool nights we have yet to experience this fall — there is a cozy on-site fireplace.
Owner Brian Wells is a former computer programmer who had an interest in coffee and saw a decline in technical jobs.
Instead of a La Marzocco, Firewheel uses a Nuova Simonelli, which owner Brian Wells points out is the official machine of the World Barista Championship.
"I wanted to do something besides watch my savings dwindle," he says.
In his search for beans, he arrived at Crimson Cup Coffee, an Ohio-based company that has a seven-step program explaining how to be successful in the specialty coffee industry. But Wells chose the company because he wanted to use fair-trade beans.
"I was looking for a roaster with good coffee and something that was fair trade," he says. "But they do better than that. They're partnered with Growers First, which means they interact with the growers directly. The middleman is eliminated, and we get access to a better bean.
"The product is consistent and wonderful too. I went to Ohio to visit the roasting facility, and I was won over by the taste."
Gear has become a big talking point with new coffee places — to La Marzocco or not to La Marzocco? Firewheel uses instead a Nuova Simonelli, which Wells points out is the official machine of the World Barista Championship.
"At Starbucks, you push a button, and it dispenses espresso. I wanted to offer an alternative," he says. "Why open a coffee shop if you don't offer an alternative? This machine is more hand-crafted. It lets you do just what the baristas do in world champion competitions. It's not easy to use, but once you figure it out, you can really get some good stuff out of it."
As for food, he's offering muffins and cookies with a goal to expand the menu as the business builds, as people – especially commuters – discover the shop's existence, next door to Firehouse Subs.
"I'm across the turnpike from the Firewheel Center mall," he says. "I didn't want to be in the mall because then I'd be restricted to foot traffic. In my current location, I'm more exposed to commuter traffic, which is more reliable and a steadier customer base for a coffee shop."
He doesn't have much in the way of competition, other than a Starbucks down the road, and he praises independents like The Generator in downtown Garland.
He closes at 7 pm on weekdays and 9 pm on Saturdays, and the shop is not open on Sundays at all. It's not optimum for a coffeehouse, but it's all that's doable when you're a one-man band.
"I'm here every hour we're open," he says. "I'm closed on Sunday because I need a day off. I look forward to business getting good enough that I can hire someone else."