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Creating a community around coffee

Posted on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 at 11:50 am

Despite icy roads and cold temperatures, families and couples drove out to NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery Sunday for the restaurant’s official grand opening. Located in what has been Ashland Coffee & Tea for decades, NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery follows the tradition of providing coffee and music, with a few updates.

Guests enjoyed the musical stylings of Dave McKinney while choosing between one of three different types of lasagnas prepared for the evening supper. The restaurant itself looks almost unrecognizable from its appearance in previous years. Even the doors and windows greeting guests as they walk in bear new, welcoming signage.

Gian Pimpinella took over Ashland Coffee & Tea this summer before it partnered with NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery. Pimpinella has lived in the Richmond and Ashland areas for almost a decade, and bought the coffee shop as a transition from his previous careers in libraries and information science.

As the owner of the coffee shop, Pimpinella began making alterations to the location’s interior, like painting the walls and ensuring and updating the public restroom. Pimpinella also began integrating vegetarian and health-conscious food items to the menu to appeal to a broader base of diners.

In the past few months Cate Hawks, owner of the NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery previously located across the tracks, and head chef Joe Mondejar have partnered with Pimpinella to transform Ashland Coffee & Tea into a relaxing dining experience.

Pimpinella now focuses most of his attention on running the beloved live music space in the building that has hosted countless shows for years. The music portion of the business has been renamed from the listening room to The Mainline at Ashland Coffee & Tea, keeping part of the original name for guests to locate shows more easily through online searches and word of mouth.

The larger restaurant space allows Hawks and Mondejar to dream up new food and drink options for guests. The menu is reminiscent of what was served at their previous location, with fresh foods and beverages. Tapas and sharing plates invite guests to interact and sit close while enjoying themselves.

NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery proudly supports Hawks’ nonprofit organization, NewFound Families, which works with adoption, foster and kinship families across Virginia. The organization’s mission is to “provide a united voice of families caring for children and youth living in foster, adoptive and kinship homes so that families and children receive the support and services they need.”

Through NewFound Families, members of foster, adoptive and kinship families are given access to camps and events that create bonds between people experiencing similar situations, or perhaps struggles.

According to Hawks, 15 percent of sales at NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery go towards the organization. Tips collected during the day, before wait staff serves dinner, also go towards the organization.

“That is our way of contributing to the community,” Hawks said.

During the holiday season, NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery raised $600 in tips to provide gifts for about 26 children in need who are a part of adopted, foster and kinship families in Virginia.

This family and community-focus translates into NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery’s general layout.

“I think now people are starting to realize we’re really more of a restaurant than just a coffee shop,” Hawks said.

NewFound Gathering & Eatery has several tables arranged for groups to gather casually or for business purposes.

“We really want to make this a gathering place for people to enjoy friends and each other’s company, and turn off the Wi-Fi,” Hawks said. “We’re not trying to be a five-star restaurant, but we want an environment that kind of speaks to community.”

The menu features vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, like tofu, dairy-free cheese, and homemade seitan in addition to their regular meat and dairy meals. A vegetarian/vegan herself, Hawks prepares and oversees the meatless side of the menu, as well as baking desserts and making beverages.

“We’re also making sure we’re taking care of the health of our customers,” Hawks said. “It’s too often that a vegetarian goes to a restaurant and just has to order a salad.”

The majority of the food is created by Mondejar, whose creativity and mastery in the kitchen keeps customers coming back.

“We couldn’t do any of this without him,” Hawks said.

One aspect of NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery’s previous location that has been continued at their new space is the use of homemade simple syrups to flavor fresh teas and desserts. NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery works with Ashland’s Sugar Cain Bakery, supplying their simple syrups for flavor-infused baked goods, like their lemon-lavender cake and red velvet cupcakes.

Pimpinella and his friend and new booking agent Beth Tubb have teamed up to manage booking musical groups and overseeing The Mainline at Ashland Coffee & Tea. Raised in a musical family and having experienced the Richmond music scene in the 80s and 90s, Tubb is at home surrounded by amps and sound boards.

She also plays with the bands the MelBays and performs with Harry Gore & Friends at The Mainline. Her two-week-old position at The Mainline falls somewhere between booking agent, and artist concierge or “general mother hen.”

Tubb described she and Pimpinella’s meeting as “serendipitous.” After playing a show with her band at the then-Ashland Coffee & Tea, Tubb realized she had lost her glasses at the venue. A few phone calls and some digging around later, Pimpinella returned the glasses to the antique store, Class and Trash, where he and Tubb both frequented.

“What sets us apart from another venues is not only the location and small-town, community feel,” Tubb said. “It’s also that our goal is kind of to make this a musician’s home.”

This comfortable atmosphere is translated into The Mainline’s updated seating and dining area. As Pimpinella explained, nearly every surface of Ashland Coffee & Tea’s listening room has been painted and updated. New, matching chairs and a few booths along the back wall offer comfortable seating for guests to enjoy the shows. The space is intended for guests to relax and forget themselves, Tubb said, to fully appreciate the music.

The Mainline will also provide dancing space, for when a song compels guests to get out of their seats and dance.

“I think now-a-days people are missing that and craving that it’s like we’ve reached this peak of technology and this virtual world, and we also miss the texture of life,” Tubb said. “There is a nice middle ground between a listening room, which we will be sometime, and going to a bar.”

Tubb and Pimpinella are working to bring more national and international musical acts to Ashland, and are already lined up to host a band from Mali this year.

The Mainline is meant to be a welcoming environment for musicians to play and interact with the audience. According to Tubb, The Mainline also intends to hold gatherings for musicians to meet and network both professionally and socially.

“The bands I’ve interacted with so far don’t want to hide out in the green room, they want to walk around and interact with people,” Tubb said.

To further promote the location and its performers The Mainline will partner with WRIR, Richmond Independent Radio, for podcasts and remote live shows. Tubb said that she has been working with Paul Ivey, who has a few of his own shows on WRIR’s station, to have some performances play live on one of his shows.

Bands may also be able to perform for the radio in WRIR’s studio before playing at The Mainline to promote their shows.

The Mainline is also expecting to hold regular Thursday night date and family night with acts, Harry Gore & Friends

“People can come for many different reasons regularly, whether it’s for the food or the music or the coffee,” Tubb said. “Day and night there are many reasons to come here; it can really become the center of your universe.”

NewFound Gathering Place & Eatery’s co-owners and partners all agree that the location will foster community and family.

“It feels more like a mission than a business,” Hawks said. “It’s a mission to bring people together.”