Nancy Rogers bakes the best scones in the city—sans any Queen Elizabeth snobbery. Like Nancy, the scones are sweet but laced with a tart, teasing bite that beckons customers back for seconds. Her favorite phrase? Shut the hell up. It’s not difficult to comply, especially with a mouthful of buttery baked goods.
Nancy and her husband Michael own The Daily Grind, a neighborhood coffee shop that’s relocated from the well-heeled Northeast Heights to Albuquerque’s newly bustling East Downtown. “The attitude here is so much better than up in the Heights,” Nancy says. “It’s because of the young people around here. They’re far more flexible, less critical and not so set in their ways.”
After 10 years in the Heights, the Downtown Daily Grind has remained somewhat of a neighborhood secret. By the summer, Nancy and Michael hope the secret will be out. Beginning in May, the shop will be open until 9 p.m. (possibly later) and will serve dinner. “I’m trying to decide what to make for my first meal,” says Nancy, who works seven days a week and does most of the cooking herself. The Daily Grind seems a natural fit for the Downtown scene: It’s a little bit hip but hasn’t sacrificed its laid-back attitude. “It’s so cool down here,” Nancy says. “People walk! This area has community.”
East of the railroad tracks, Downtown doesn’t offer many dinner options but for fine dining at the Artichoke Café or the Standard Diner, or a two-dollar dinner at Pop ’n’ Taco. The Daily Grind is a welcome alternative to those culinary extremes, serving fresh, tasty, homemade comfort food that won’t ravage your gut or your wallet.
Perhaps the best The Daily Grind has to offer, besides its scones, is the secluded garden plaza behind the shop. Nestled in La Plaza Escalante is the Grind’s quiet patio, a peaceful retreat from the din and hustle of Central. The Plaza, says Nancy, is where “people can sit and take a chill pill.” Dogs are welcome, too, so long as Nancy and Michael can shower them with affection. (Be forewarned: Their killer, five-pound Pomeranian, who occasionally makes an appearance, can be vicious.) The shop has just added more seating in its expanded storefront, a cozy, sunlit room with hardwood floors and walls adorned with giant, handpainted poppies, which are the work of local artist Jacqueline Maxwell.
Like the poppies, The Daily Grind is a by-hand, from-scratch kind of place. “The signature of the food is that we try our best. We use the best ingredients that we can get. We never shortcut anything,” says Nancy. “Our fare is simple. It’s what you’d eat at home … you’ll always find comfort here.”
In the age of grab ’n’ go meals and monolithic food franchises, The Daily Grind is among a dying breed of coffeehouses. At this mom ’n’ pop shop, service is personal. “We’re curious,” says Nancy, who offers solicited, sage advice with her coffee. The Grind also personalizes orders for fussy eaters and vegetarians (like me), and makes all of their sandwiches to order. For fussy children, the shop keeps an array of entertaining goodies on-hand, including sidewalk chalk, stickers and clay. “I think it’s important for little people to have a sense of value in places where they’re not traditionally valued,” says Nancy, a seasoned mom. “That’s one of my favorite things.”
Nancy extends her domestic prowess to the shop, where she takes pride in serving customers with compassion and respect. “If you went to my home, you’d be treated the same way, so it’s not a stretch for me to do this. You’re going to be treated well, fed well, and we’ll laugh and carry on. It’s the same way here. This is just an extension of our home. If it were not that I felt that, I couldn’t do it. It’s too hard. Here, we laugh a bunch and tease each other a lot … it’s like you don’t come to work. You’re just doing what you’d do, anyway.”
It’s evident that Nancy and Michael treat their employees with the same compassion they show their customers. The young people who work the counter are affable and attentive, without the forced smile and scripted pleasantries of employees at larger coffee chains. “We’ve always been able to count on these people,” Nancy says. “We work around their schedules, and we treat them well and with respect. We’ve never had to deal with any theft, or anybody who we felt was not doing what’s representative of who we are. I think that speaks volumes about us and about how people should be treated, in general.”
Apart from baking, the couple says that mentoring their young employees has been the most important part of running their business. “The biggest thing we’ve done is to mentor young people,” says Nancy. “It seems trite, but it’s a true statement. For some of these young people, this is their first job experience, and it being a good one, and a fun one, is so much better than coming in and having someone yell at you, or you’re afraid to come in or don’t want to. I love mentoring young people, and I never thought that’s what I would be doing.”
Although they miss some aspects of running their old shop, Michael and Nancy believe their new business in the East Downtown neighborhood will ultimately eclipse business at their former location. Since moving to Central, the shop has slowly cultivated a new, faithful clientele. Some long-time Heights clients still venture across town for their favorite fare.
“I don’t mean to slam Starbucks or Flying Star, but they’re about money,” Nancy says. The Daily Grind, however, is about community. “That’s what a coffee shop is and helps to create,” says Nancy. Downtown, she feels “there’s more a sense of community” than there was in the Heights. There, “the coffee shop was the community.”
When they first started the business, Nancy says, “I realized that the coffee business is a snotty business. I though, ‘Oh, my God, what have I done?’ But it’s just the opposite. The human race is good.”
And so is the French toast.