A former dentist office at 2223 Austin Ave. has established itself as a neighborhood beacon of beer, baristas and barbecue.
In a stretch where towering homes with manicured yards give way to visitors discovering Waco’s burgeoning uptown business district, Pinewood Coffee Bar has recently expanded its reach with the adjacent Pinewood Public House. In between is a patio where patrons sit under a spreading oak to sip beverages of their choice, eat, read, people-watch and catch live performances.
It’s the unfolding vision of Pinewood founders Dylan Washington and John David Beard, who started in the coffee roasting business in McGregor. They hung out their shingle in summer 2017 at the Austin Avenue location, aiming to make it a community hub.
They have added food trucks and hosted music and spoken-word performances, and this spring branched out with the pub, which offers “just wine and beer, with an emphasis on beer,” Washington said.
“We get product from all the local guys, including Bare Arms and Brotherwell, and buy nearly exclusively from Texas breweries,” said Washington. “About 300 people a day come through the coffee shop, so many it sometimes gets out of hand. We see a lot of professors and graduate students. At the pub, we’re seeing 50 to 100 daily, and that number also is growing at a pretty good, healthy rate. Then there’s the Helberg Barbecue food truck outside. Those guys are awesome. We also have a good relationship with Harvest on 25th, where we buy all our pastries for the shop, including sourdough cinnamon rolls and honey pecan biscuits. Man, are they good.”
Washington, who grew up in Waco tinkering with coffee, made a serious hobby of the craft while pursuing a history degree at Baylor University. He sold coffee to friends who encouraged him to cast a broader net. Working at the Common Grounds, a legendary coffee haunt next to the Baylor campus, he Beard, a native of East Texas, which inspired the name Pinewood.
They became 50-50 partners, processing their own beans, first in their garage, then in an old building in McGregor.
Washington said his father and the ownership of Common Grounds provided the financial boost needed to get rolling with the bean business. American Bank and TFNB Your Bank for Life “have treated us well.”
“That first roaster was $20,000, which seemed like a jillion dollars,” said Washington with a laugh. “It was like buying a new car.”
After selling beans to other local coffeehouses, they created their own retail shop inside Alpha and Omega Grill and Bakery, 929 Franklin Ave., in 2016, before moving to the Austin Avenue location.
Today, at their own place, they employ 10 baristas and 10 support staffers, including several Baylor students who work there part-time.
“When we hire a new barista, we like to start from scratch with someone with does not have a lot of coffee experience,” Beard said. “We can introduce them to coffee the way we want to and train the way we want to. They don’t have previous bad habits or bad knowledge of coffee. We have a couple of employees who play around with syrups, creating drinks we all taste. We’re always adding to the menu and taking away, offering seasonal specialties.”
A popular drink is the Huey Lewis, a cold coffee brew mixed with lemonade and a house vanilla syrup. Some say it tastes like a Tootsie Roll, said Beard.
Beard and Washington have traveled to Costa Rica and Guatemala to talk shop, and they continue to roast their own beans. They place orders with domestic suppliers who contract with farmers worldwide to raise coffee beans on backyard-sized tracts.
“Half of our beans come from Central America, half from Africa,” said Washington, who with Beard launched their business by purchasing a coffee roaster they still use today.
Waco-based Rydell Holdings owns the building Pinewood occupies, having collaborated with Washington and Beard in their search for more space. The Rydell team includes general counsel Dillon Meek, who also happens to represent North Waco as District 4 city councilman.
Meek, speaking by phone, said the success of Pinewood rests with Washington and Beard. Meek and his family have lived in that area since 2010, and Rydell continues to invest there. It acquired Palm Court, a 16-unit apartment complex at 2005 Austin Ave, whose construction dates to 1924, and now owns the blue-and-white Austin Place Apartments at 2000 Austin Ave.
Another Rydell property is Carriage House Flats, apartments sporting a townhouse look built two years ago in the 1900 block of Austin Avenue.
Palm Court, Carriage House and Austin Place all are fully leased, Meek said.
“We determined that the area was great for development: near downtown, with density between that of downtown and the single-family neighborhood,” said Meek. “We have a great deal of love and respect for that area, and as property owners, we hope to catch the vision, the dream of talented people to ensure those dreams are realized. We want to make this place, along with downtown, a livable, workable area for people of all ages.”
Rydell recognizes Pinewood’s popularity. Online listings for properties available in that transitioning corridor say, “A block from Pinewood and the Wine Shoppe, and just a hop, skip and a jump from downtown.”
More movement is just around the corner, sources say.
Matt Hardy confirmed he will open a cocktail bar adjacent to Harvest on 25th, the popular coffee shop and breakfast restaurant at 112 N. 25th St.
“I’m still working on a name,” Hardy said by phone.
Meanwhile, Cheddar Box owner Abby Rhodes will open a dessert and doughnut shop called Well Rounded in that same location, Meek said. A Facebook post says it will offer customizable doughnut holes.
Back at the old dentist office on Austin, Washington said the future of Pinewood is yet to be written.
“Our motto has always been to never have a plan. We take opportunities as they come,” said Washington. “We would listen to franchising offers.”