Kindred Roots Cafe: Creating Community in Alto

When Ted and Ashlee Watson moved from Grand Rapids to Alto five years ago, they fell in love with their new hometown. They enjoyed the slower pace of life, the little library and the wide-open spaces. But something was missing.

“I noticed the lack of a coffee and breakfast spot,” Ashlee explains.

As a work-at-home mom, she and her son Edison spent many a day at the library, but there were few other gathering spots in town – certainly no place to linger over a cup of coffee with a friend. Rather than bemoan what was missing, the Watsons sought to fill the gap, and last December, they opened Kindred Roots Cafe at 11567 Depot Street in Alto.

From Empty Room to Gathering Space

While the Watsons are new business owners, they are not strangers to the hospitality industry. Ted earned a hospitality degree from Grand Valley State University in 2012, and the couple met when they both worked at Brick Road Pizza in Grand Rapids.

When they decided to open a cafe, their first obstacle was finding a suitable location in Alto. Then, last March, they heard about a vacant building that was previously used for storage and office space. The Watsons quickly snagged it and set about the long process of turning it into a cozy gathering spot.

“We built this place,” Ted says. “It was a white box when we moved in.”

He did much of the construction that was needed to transform the space into a cafe. That included making the beautiful wood counter that separates the dining and food prep areas.

Meanwhile, Ashlee gathered an eclectic collection of tables and chairs to provide a unique seating area. As an art teacher, she also created the business sign and other elements of the décor.

Plus, there are toys, books, and magazines for everyone to enjoy while in the cafe. And the couple hopes to create an outdoor green space in the future for visitors who don’t want to leave their four-legged friends at home.

Overwhelmed by Community Response

Although only open for a few months, the Watsons say they have been overwhelmed by the support they have received from the Alto community.

“I am shocked by how much people have shown up for us,” Ashlee says, “(and) they continue to show up.”

Many residents have turned into regulars, stopping by to enjoy one of Ted’s homemade cinnamon rolls – the best in the area, they say – while others have offered to help however possible. At the same time, the Watsons want to help other local business owners and have set up a display for local artisans to sell their items.

Creating a sense of community and belonging is what the Watsons wanted to achieve when they created Kindred Roots Cafe, and so far, it seems to be a success. In addition to serving up coffee, tea, muffins and more, the cafe has several events in the works to bring people together. These include coffee and canvas events, tea tasting, and a glass fusing class.

For those looking for a space to hold their own events in Alto, Kindred Roots Cafe can be rented out for special events. Looking to the future, the Watsons hope to add catering options too.

Not Panera…Better

If you are looking for a quick-serve experience, Kindred Roots Cafe might not meet your expectations. “We’re not Panera,” Ashlee says with a laugh.

The food prep area currently uses a single pizza oven to make breakfast and lunch sandwiches so there can be a wait if many people are ordering at the same time. If you need a sandwich in a hurry, Ashlee suggests calling ahead with an order.

There are also baked goods such as muffins, cinnamon rolls, cookies, bagels and croissants that are ready to go. Both drip coffee and specialty drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos are available using beans from Littlefoot, a roaster out of Grandville. There are free refills of drip coffee and tea for those dining in.

“We’re trying to create a community space here,” Ted explains. The couple wants to encourage people to feel at home, and their son Edison already treats many of the regular customers like family.

If you haven’t stopped by yet, Kindred Roots Cafe is open Mondays through Fridays from 9am-4pm and Saturdays from 9am-2pm. The cafe is closed on Sundays.

You can see the menu on the Kindred Roots Cafe website and follow their Facebook page for the latest news on upcoming events.

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