Higher Grounds Coffee: Brewing Community and Quality

Since its start in 2004 this Freeport coffeehouse has fostered a community around its warm and inviting menu. Its new owner hopes to keep it that way.

As the sun’s rays begin to grace the Midwestern horizon, Freeport comes to life. At Higher Grounds Coffee, the aroma of freshly roasted beans and the soft chatter of friendly conversation fills the air.

This is the way it’s been since the doors opened in 2004. Located at 1709 S. West Ave., Higher Grounds has been a cherished social hub where the conversation is just as important as the coffee.

“My first goal was to provide a safe and comfortable place for people,” says owner Erica Williams.

The diverse menu tempts customers at the counter or the drive-thru with a creative coffee selection, featuring everything from standards to treats like the peppermint marshmallow cold brew. Non-coffee options include apple pie cider, teal twist lemonade and marshmallow ripple cocoa. Tea lovers can enjoy options like a chai latte or the timeless Arnold Palmer iced tea. Seasonal specialty drinks, like the Pot of Gold, also make an appearance.

“We feature a variety of monthly specials,” says Williams. “We offer a 10% discount on those and align them with holiday or seasonal themes. It’s a way to encourage people to try something new.”

In the early morning hours, freshly baked breakfast items such as fluffy cinnamon rolls, buttery croissants and cheese Danishes tempt many a visitor. The breakfast burrito is another favorite, packed with rice, vegetables, eggs, cheddar cheese and sausage in a spinach wrap.

As the day progresses, the menu expands to include savory dishes like the Chicken Arti panini, featuring grilled chicken breast, artichoke spread, Swiss cheese and pesto on a grilled ciabatta roll.

Williams, a Rockford native, explored a variety of career paths before making her way to Lena, Ill., to be closer to family in 2009. Seven years later, she discovered a coffee shop in Freeport and fell in love. She got to know Cynthia Faulkner, founder of Higher Grounds, and when she discovered Faulkner was ready to retire in September 2021, Williams, with her husband’s support, leaped without hesitation to become the new owner.

“Having never owned a business before, I had no idea what I was doing, but I pushed through,” she says.

Family plays a pivotal role at the coffee shop. Williams’ daughter, Kira, works as a barista, while her son, Juni, works in the kitchen.

Williams’ connection to the Freeport community continues to evolve. She offers work experience to students from Freeport High School and hosts events like book signings and art exhibitions. Additionally, she plans to host classes through a partnership with Highland Community College, covering topics like how to order espresso drinks and where coffee comes from. She has ambitious plans for growth but remains focused on nurturing the shop’s loyal relationships.

“It’s not even loyalty. They become like family,” says Williams.

Higher Grounds Coffee is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday at 7 a.m.