NEW MIDDLETOWN, Ohio – The coffee shop activity had made Victoria Clark bitter.
The former manager of Cafe Joe Maxx in downtown Youngstown for about seven years lost her job when the store closed during the height of the pandemic. All those years of work and experience are gone.
She was initially reluctant to find a similar job. But the cafes were what she knew best and loved the most. Over time, she realized that the shutdown was in fact an opportunity.
At the request of her husband, Sean, Clark opened his own boutique, Hallowed ground coffee, last month at a small mall just off State Route 170 in the heart of New Middletown Village. She and Sean are co-owners and work in the store every day.
Business has been going well from the start, says Victoria, which tells her she’s made the right decision.
âThere’s no other industry I want to be in other than coffee,â says Clark. âI have been working in the service industry since I was 15 and have found a part of it that I love. This is another facet of catering.
Clark says she liked the people she worked with at Joe Maxx, and enlisted them to appear in a TV commercial for Hallowed Grounds.
Good coffee, which is cozy and encourages guests to linger, is special, she says. âThere is something different from a restaurant about this,â she says. “There is a magic, a connection.”
At Joe Maxx, Clark started out as a barista and worked his way up to a managerial position, learning all aspects of the business along the way. Hallowed Grounds is his first business, but Sean has started several in the past. âEven before COVID, he would say, ‘Let’s open our own cafe,’ she says.
When the Clarkes, who live in Boardmans, went looking for a place, they knew exactly what they wanted.
It must have been in a small town with charm and a warm atmosphere. They found exactly what they were looking for in New Middletown.
âWe tried Columbiana,â says Clark. âBut there is a boom there and nothing is available. Or if it does, then it’s available for about eight hours or its price is insane.
On a scouting trip, the Clarkes walked to their then empty store site and peeked out the windows. âThe next day we signed the papers,â she said.
As the Clarkes found a town that was âa bit of Mayberry,â they added their own personality to their store.
It means spooky, which is a style they love.
It’s easy to spot the spooky decor around the spacious seating area, and it’s even more noticeable with Halloween just around the corner. There are Gothic books on a shelf and monstrous artwork on the wall, a coffin-shaped spice rack, and, if you take a closer look, the creepy weird.
âWe’re a little spooky,â says Clark. “These were our decorations for the house.”
The name of the store itself plays on the theme.
âWe had our wedding photos taken in a cemetery and we were thinking of something related to the cemetery for a name,â she says. “Hallowed Grounds is a pun, because it’s scary land and it’s coffee grounds too.”
In addition to the Clarkes, the store has two other employees. It is open seven days a week: from 6.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.
The full line of fine coffees was created by a barista. The store also sells breakfast sandwiches, pastries, muffins and danishes, as well as New York style water bagels.
In the future, Clark plans to gradually add wraps, sandwiches and similar light dishes to the menu.
The New Middletown community has embraced Hallowed Grounds “with open arms,” ââshe says, adding that the store’s tables are fully occupied on weekends until late afternoon. âIt’s a nice place for the community to come together.
Hallowed Grounds will be having a big opening celebration on October 30 – it’s Halloween weekend – from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the parking lot. The event will feature representatives from a dog rescue agency, hot dogs, treats, gifts and candy, as well as tarot readings. Guests can come in disguise if they wish.
The store is located in the plaza of State Route 170 and Sycamore Drive, near Tiger’s Table Den & Deli. Even its address – 13.5 Sycamore Drive – is a bit scary.
Above: Victoria and Sean Clark own and operate the cafe.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.