Thirteen years after setting out to make her patrons’ days better, the friendly face behind this beloved coffeehouse is still finding ways to improve the experience.
Owner and Founder Cynthia Faulkner is celebrating the 13th anniversary of Higher Grounds, 1709 S. West Ave., Freeport, a specialty coffee and tea shop that also serves food in a comfortable, contemporary setting.
Before she opened her shop, Faulkner felt such a place was something Freeport needed at the time, and she was right. Although other coffee shops have sprouted up around her, patrons agree no one can take her place or duplicate what she has done.
“Our motto is ‘Make the Customer’s Day Better,’ and we make that happen with comfortable surroundings and warm and friendly staff members who are trained to get to know the customers’ names and what they like to eat and drink,” she says. “The personalized service makes people want to come back.”
She’s grown her business from the ground up, starting out as a small coffee shop with a few bakery items and continually adding food and drink offerings. She added a breakfast and lunch menu and recently expanded the space to include a quiet room with a fireplace where patrons can work or study with fewer distractions. The room can also be rented for parties and business meetings, and seats up to 25 people.
Everything Faulkner does is done with one goal in mind, she says. She wants to improve the lives of people in her community.
“When I hire staff, I look for people who are friendly, outgoing, have good communication skills and like serving people,” Faulkner says. “You can buy coffee anywhere, but I depend upon my customers who want to support local businesses. I have the opportunity to give back to my community by giving my staff a good introduction to the world of work and how to be successful.”
And it’s working.
Customers constantly stream in and out throughout the day, many giving hugs and handshakes to people they know. Some will grab a cup of coffee on the run, while others settle into a comfortable chair by the fireplace. Still others pull tables together to accommodate a group of friends. Those in a hurry to get somewhere often use the drive-up window.
On a recent morning in September, there was a lot of talk in her shop about a Starbucks that had just opened up across the street. The general consensus was that it wouldn’t hurt Faulkner’s local business. What she offers is special, her customers say.
“I love the back room, where I can just sit and disappear and work on a project or just think about the day and connect with people in a place away from school,” says Tim Connors, director of theater and speech at Freeport High School. He’s been going to Higher Grounds at least a couple times a week for years. “I love to support local businesses and everyone is so friendly at Higher Grounds. Most importantly, it’s just a comfortable place to break away from the pressures of the day.”
His favorite drinks are a large ice tea or the Dreamsicle Frappe, often combined with a breakfast cookie, Ranger cookie or yogurt parfait.
Faulkner purchases her coffee beans from True Coffee, a small-batch artisan roaster in Fitchburg, Wis. She boasts of having “the largest selection around” of bottled Torani syrups to flavor coffee drinks, stocking about 30 flavors. She uses Ghirardelli chocolate for the mocha and caramel lattes. People can buy the coffee beans retail. Many other gift items are sold in the store as well, including Higher Grounds coffee mugs and T-shirts.
Seasonal drinks are offered throughout the year and the special latte of the month is always sold at a 20 percent discount. Seasonal drinks on the menu now include Maple Pecan Latte, Haystack Mocha, Frosted Pumpkin White Mocha, Crème Brulee Latte, Caramel Apple Smoothie and Pumpkin Gingersnap Frappe.
Faulkner’s mouth-watering breakfast menu includes filled and regular scones, muffins, pound cake, pastries and croissants, bagels and more. The filled scones come in flavors of almond with raspberry filling, vanilla cream with strawberry filling, chocolate hazelnut with cream cheese filling and a four-cheese savory scone with spinach and mushroom filling.
Plain scones include pumpkin walnut with cream cheese frosting, Door County cherry almond, chocolate chip orange, Craisin orange and blueberry cream. Muffin options include carrot, chocolate, lemon blueberry, pumpkin chocolate chip and lemon raspberry. Pound cake flavors include iced lemon, marble, red velvet, orange poppy seed and pumpkin.
Faulkner also offers a selection of breakfast sandwiches and a fruit and yogurt parfait with cherry honey maple almond pecan granola, an assortment of cookies, bars and brownies, and a Triple Bliss Dessert, which is a slice of marble pound cake soaked with a shot of espresso, topped with whipped cream and drizzled with Ghiradelli caramel and chocolate syrup.
The Pizza Panini and the Tuscan Chicken Panini are popular seasonal sandwiches that will return to the fall lunch menu this year. That menu also features a chicken salad in a spinach wrap or croissant; Quiche of the Day; Greek chicken feta flatbread; Southwest chicken wrap; turkey artichoke pesto panini, chicken bacon ranch Panini; tuna melt panini and more. All sandwiches are under $6. A lunch combo special includes a half sandwich, cup of soup and drink for $7.55.
Faulkner was working in the insurance business when the desire to do something else with her life took root. She thought about the needs of her community and decided the small town needed a “big city” coffee shop.
“Having a coffee shop was not something I had always thought about doing, but when it came to thinking about a second career, the idea just popped into my mind that this is what Freeport needed,” she says. “I like people and when my husband and I traveled, we’d stop at coffee shops and relax. We wanted to create that feeling for others.”
She and her husband, Ed, bought the Freeport building, gutted it, and started to build their dream.
“I wanted a contemporary urban feel to the space, where people could come to relax and unwind from the day’s stressors, even if only for a short time, by themselves, with friends, or for a family or business meeting.
“Higher Grounds is what I wanted it to be. I wanted to create something unique and special and I think I have done that,” she says.
Higher Grounds is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday with the drive-thru opening at 6 a.m.; from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.