The first ascent into Grinds & Grains, the coffee and cereal bar now open upstairs at 3 Church Street in New Paltz, can feel a bit overwhelming. The bright and airy space is a riot of color, with splashes of the same tight-and-bright color palette pulling together the furniture, the art, the menus and the breakfast cereals along the wall. That the store is a bright and cheery canvas isn’t what’s overwhelming, though: there are just a whole lot of cereals from which to choose.
Co-owner Melanie Caron knows the look. “There are a lot of choices, aren’t there?” she asks. The reporter’s eyes drift down to the locally-sourced granola choices; they remind him of breakfast at home. Above those options are many more that remind him of his childhood sugar addiction, barely reined in by parents more relieved he ate at all. Caron smiles encouragingly. This is no parent, watchful or otherwise. Unfettered, he orders like the child he once was: a blend of Cocoa Krispies and Cocoa Puffs topped with toffee crunch and a chocolate drizzle. In a tip of the hat to the adult he’s become, he opts for almond milk.
The experience of mulling over the cereal bar at Grinds & Grains is every bit as essential to the overall feel as are the brightly-lacquered tables and matching chairs. Caron and co-owner Rashid Chambers have taken the time to inject a sense of fun into the atmosphere and the experience. Yes, it’s possible to grab a cup of java on the go, but it’s harder to avoid the infectious optimism which pervades the walls, glancing off the gleaming espresso bar and being soaked up by more than 20 varieties that stay crunchy in milk, nut or otherwise.
Coffee at Grinds & Grains comes from Brooklyn-based Partners Coffee Roasters, and the aroma drifts down the stairs and right into the street. Caron believes that it calls visitors in, especially when the open-air market is right outside. To one with a refined taste for coffee, this selection will likely appeal. Chambers has devoted himself to learning the art and science of their state-of-the-art espresso bar, and crafts beverages which warm heart and enliven tongue. That’s no small feat for someone who didn’t even drink coffee before throwing himself into this venture. Caron, who had no such handicap, says she now can’t drink coffee anywhere else because she can’t even make it as good at home. After tasting their way through suppliers to find the roast they wanted, they have become experts on the variables like temperature and humidity which impact the quality of an espresso shot. Chambers, most often the barista, will toss a shot that comes out watery or bitter instead of serving a subpar drink. The corporate-trained Caron sometimes winces at the cost of maintaining quality, but she considers it a cost of doing business.
“I like bringing positivity to someone’s day,” says Caron. It’s clear she means it because she lives it. Laid off from GE Capital, she saw before her an opportunity to redefine her life rather than a daunting job search. She and Chambers considered opening a restaurant together, but that felt like it was biting off more than they could chew. Seeing that cereal bars were emerging as a trend in Europe and Manhattan, they took that tack instead. “There’s nothing like it in the area,” she said, but the fact that they are already seeing regulars after only a few weeks shows that there is a population being served. “There’s a reason there’s an entire aisle of it in the supermarket,” she said. It appeals to “kids of all ages.”
A bowl costs less than $5, with dairy product and many toppings included. Non-dairy milks and fresh fruit cost extra, but the carbon cost is always lowered by the fact that all the plates, bowls, utensils, and even the dreaded straws are compostable. Some of the 25 choices now available are of the pre-sweetened variety, but there are also ones marketed more to grown-ups, like Frosted Mini-Wheats and Cheerios. Caron, who oversees “cereal art” as Chambers does for coffee, wants to add more healthful grains and even hot cereals and soups over time. “We want to get the basics first,” Caron says. Pictures of the beautiful and creative bowls get posted to grindsandgrainsnp, the shop’s instagram feed.
Thus far the pair have no other staff, but that hasn’t restrained their big plans. Expect coffee cupping events, live music, and maybe a disco ball to amplify the joyous panoply of color inside. They have even toyed with the idea of making deliveries along the rail trail, but that’s definitely still in the works. As of right now, Grinds & Grains is “bright and happy, even on the gloomiest day,” and also happens to be “the best people-watching spot” in the area, Caron believes. It’s open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. every day.