Waterstreet Coffee Bar turns one

BY BEN MARKS | DECEMBER 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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One year ago, on Dec. 10, 2013, the Waterstreet Coffee Bar opened in the Iowa River Landing.

Owner Jenny Henningsen, a former accountant who had never run her own business before, said the initial experience was tiring.

“It’s hard,” she said. “Starting out with just a [building] shell. It was just getting the buildup correct, and then having all the approval processes handled, food and beverage licenses, and all the equipment that goes along with making specialty coffee.”

She persevered, however, and one year later, she said running Waterstreet has settled down considerably.

“We have a lot of regulars, and it just becomes a daily routine,” she said. “A daily dose of conversation that you’ve started the day before and finish the next day, and you really get to know people’s lives.”

The inspiration for Waterstreet, Henningsen said, was the 13 years of travel she did for her former accounting job, which she said took her to many amazing coffeehouses across the United States.

“I went to places that served alcohol so [they were] kind of a bar and coffeehouse and just had really cool atmospheres,” she said. “I thought, wow, something like this would be something cool in the Iowa City area.”

In addition to specialty coffee, Waterstreet does sell wine and beer.

“In the last couple of years, the atmosphere has changed,” Henningsen said. “But when I first moved here, there were a lot of bars that were catered to the students. So I just wanted a place you could go for a coffee or a cocktail, and it felt a little more upscale yet relaxing.”

Waterstreet’s staff is small, only seven including Henningsen, but barista Zak Lee said the intimate setting is what makes it interesting.

“You get to know a lot about your coworkers, about everyone’s weaknesses and advantages in the business,” he said. “We’re all fairly different but have come together at different levels.”

Lee believes Waterstreet has been extremely lucky to have the employees it does, and he said everyone is very committed to working there.

“Customer service is the center of our entire model,” he said. “You can teach coffee to anyone, teach them how to be good at this job. But you can’t teach customer service.”

Paula Grady, although a resident of Cedar Rapids, said she is in town often and goes to Waterstreet frequently.

“It’s kind of my new hangout,” she said.

Grady, excited about the cheese and cracker, and hummus and pita plates, also said she appreciated the atmosphere.

“Everyone is really friendly and upbeat, it’s a nice atmosphere, the music is great, and of course the coffee is great,” she said.

University of Iowa graduate student Mitchell Lingo said he goes to Waterstreet four or five times a week since school started in the fall and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“I really like the variety of coffee, the atmosphere, and the people,” he said. “Sometimes, you get to coffee shops and they have a pretentious vibe, and this one doesn’t.”

Lingo said the staff are all very good people, and they “love their coffee and don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Although he mostly comes for the coffee and tea, he said he does enjoy half-price beer Tuesday nights, as well as the “great music.”

Henningsen said although the shop is doing well, there are still slow days and they still have a long ways to go.

“We’ve really developed a nice customer base,” she said. “Just looking around and seeing all the people who have come in today has been a really huge boost to what I believe in. Everyone is coming in congratulating me, supporting me.”

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