Even though Inkwell, a coffee shop on College Avenue, opened two months ago, the finishing touches are still coming together — the shop still needs to buy more mugs, install an outdoor sign and finish building the bar and pastry display.
However, the shop still sees steady flow of customers, who filled the front room last Saturday morning. Locals sipped coffee from Inkwell mugs, snacked on Inkwell’s signature toaster pastries and devoured egg sandwiches, waffles, avocado toast and granola.
Inkwell opened at 105 N. College Ave. in September. It aims to provide a homey space where locals and students can enjoy simple foods and well-crafted coffee.
“Yes, we’re serving food, yes, we want you to come and have a food experience, but we also want you to have a community experience,” Tracy Gates, Inkwell's owner, said.
A distressed brick wall runs along one side of Inkwell’s deep, narrow front room and serves as the backdrop for the long coffee bar, lit by white, geometrical chandeliers. Chalkboards display Inkwell’s Wi-Fi password and messages like "Welcome to Inkwell, We’re glad you’re here."
Indie music underlies a persistent buzz of conversation. If customers want a quieter experience, they can sit in the backroom, which Inkwell rents out for events.
“The coffee reflects the place because it’s a beautiful spot,” Oualelaye "Wally" Ouedraogo, who handles all of Inkwell’s coffee, said. His infamous latte art has helped Inkwell gain recognition on social media and throughout the community.
Ouedraogo worked closely with Hopscotch, another high quality coffee shop in Bloomington, to develop Inkwell’s roast. Gates said the only competition she sees with Hopscotch is her hope to become their biggest customer.
“If we succeed, they succeed,” Gates said.
Inkwell’s space was previously occupied by NOCO, an expensive seafood restaurant, and before that, a winery. After she quit her job at Scholars Inn Bakehouse and NOCO left the space, Gates seized her opportunity to create a business that would encourage more community access to the space.
IU sophomore Caroline Crouch and IU senior Sydney Johnson studied and chatted in the back room last week as they sipped gingerbread lattes and enjoyed a leisurely brunch.
"I just had some bomb avocado toast," Crouch said.
They said that while the space had a chill vibe, they could not decide whether it was meant to be a study space or a sit-down restaurant. They said they were impressed when a waitress noticed Johnson’s latte did not have the right amount of froth and offered to remake the drink.
Inkwell’s menu is based on Gates' belief that all people want is simple food that tastes good.
Her favorite breakfast item called the daily, is a 220 calorie soft-scrambled egg topped with cheddar cheese on a pretzel bun. No menu item costs more than $7, even though Gates spends $21 per pound of salt and $400 per gallon of real vanilla to ensure high quality production.
“That detail really, really makes a difference,” Gates said.