Well-loved Coffee Shop far more than a place to buy lattes — it was a welcoming community gathering place

by Stephen Dafoe

On Feb. 17, 2017, Higher Grounds will pull down the shop shades for the final time. Opened in February of 2011, the coffee shop set out to be more than a place to get a cappuccino or a flavoured latte. It was to be a welcoming place where the community could gather.

Walking through the doors of Higher Grounds on 100 Avenue in those early days, one was immediately struck with the welcoming ambiance of the coffee shop. The tables and chairs were modern looking; there was a pair of comfy leather chairs set off to the side for a little extra luxury; a big screen silently played the news of the day, and a little smooth jazz played on the stereo – jazzy enough to let you know you are in a cutting-edge coffee shop and low key enough that it would be appropriate background music for anyone to sip their chai latte to.
When we interviewed manager Crystal Terhorst six years ago about the shop and its mission, she laid that vision out clearly for us.

“Our vision is to be a place where people can meet, where young people can release their music,” Terhorst said at the time, adding the coffee shop was planning to host CD release events for local musicians and host open mic nights for all performers called Hot Dogma nights.

Higher Grounds did just that. Over the past half decade plus, the coffee shop has opened its doors on weekends to host local musicians and entertainers, many who have only grown far stronger in their craft for having had the benefit of a local venue.

Quick learning curve

Terhorst and her group of volunteers ran a smaller venue for about two years in the shop where Daisy Nails is at present. They moved to their current location in February of 2011, and have operated Tuesday to Friday ever since.

“We started as a church and felt that operating a coffee shop was how we wanted to connect with the community,” Terhorst said. “So we bought some barista machines and learned how to make lattes. New Beginnings was a very small place, so we couldn’t have a lot of people in at a time. We wanted to expand what we were doing and have the open mic nights and more hours. There were more things we wanted to do, and the venue was too small.”

Terhorst recalls the learning curve was steep and quick to be able to open a full-serve shop at their Higher Grounds location.

“We had to learn to make coffee drinks pretty quick. Everyone was practicing, and we were pretty high on caffeine for the first month or so.”

But learn they did, and soon the sound of coffee machines served as a filler sound between sets of local musicians on weekends or an accompanying sound to the laughter of customers during weekdays.

It is that laughter and building of friendships that is Terhorst’s greatest recollection and greatest regret in closing down.

“It’s been getting to know the town, getting to know the characters in this town,” Terhorst said of her fond memories. “There are so many great people, and it’s been making friends, good lasting friendships, and have those friends in my home from this community. That won’t stop.”

But beyond the opportunity to help people in Morinville get to know one another a little better over a cup of coffee, Higher Grounds has helped many local organizations and individual families through their giving as a non-profit. Talent show collections and charity crib tournaments have allowed the coffee house to help the library, food bank, Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation, Fort Mac residents, and individual families struggling in times of need.

Terhorst said it is sad they have to close, but their core volunteers range between 60 and 70 years of age.
“We know it’s coming. We knew it was coming,” Terhorst said, noting age has brought them to the realization they were coming to the end of their strength. “We have great volunteers, but it’s been a long run. They’re so good with our customers and our guests. Through them, we’ve been able to meet even more people.”

Terhorst would love to see Higher Grounds continue and hopes someone will step in to take over the business. Anyone interested can contact Crystal Terhorst at 780-903-1079.

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