Owen brews and bakes a special on-campus community| April 12, 2013
Editor's note: Earlier this semester, Jim Ducibella and David Williard of the Office of University Relations issued a challenge to students in one of English Professor Joanne Braxton's classes: Find people on campus, faculty or staff, that you feel are "unsung." Explain why you feel that way and, if approved, write a profile of that person for publication on this website. This is the first in a series of five such stories that will appear as part of the "Behind the Bricks" series over the next few weeks.
“I’ve made about 14,000 chocolate chip scones since I started working here,” Scott Owen says with a laugh.
Next time you stop in for a coffee at The Daily Grind, take a quick look behind the counter. The kitchen is tiny and cramped, but full of activity. There are sandwiches being pressed, vegetables being cut, scones coming out of the oven, warm and ready to be wrapped in cellophane. The baristas at The Daily Grind navigate their way around each other with ease, moving quickly between the small kitchen to the front counter. Nothing is spilled. Orders are taken. Numbers are called. The process looks simple.
Everyone here, whether a barista or student, is comfortable. Owen, the owner and manager of William & Mary’s on-campus coffeehouse, is responsible for creating that relaxed feel. For the past 12 years, he’s seen The Daily Grind as a process—a recipe for community.
“Everything we do is a clear process,” said Owen. “It’s all recipe, from making the scones to grinding the coffee. After all these years, you begin to look at life that way. It makes life easier to handle, when you can break it down into its elements and say, ‘I can control this.’"
Owen is an extremely devoted worker, having dedicated most of his life toward jobs in the food industry. He started busing tables at 13, and received a work permit two years later to work in the kitchen of a pizza restaurant. At 15, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“(At this pizza place) I used to take 30-pound blocks of cheese, place them in these huge wall grinders, and grate them into tubs down below,” he recalled , moving his hands through the air excitedly as he describes each step. “Taking a raw material and converting it into a finished product that people want to consume is a rewarding experience. You learn from it every day—you can improve it; manipulate it.”
Owen thrives on constant improvement. Since opening the coffeehouse in 2000, Owen has learned to incorporate changes into The Daily Grind based on student interest and feedback. Nothing in the coffee shop truly remains static. The menu is consistently offering new options for food and drink, and the seating is often rearranged whenever students return to William & Mary after breaks.
By tinkering with the menu, Owen hopes to accommodate as many tastes as possible. He has even reached out to Extraordinary Cupcakes, a local cupcake bakery near campus, to bring outside products in to the coffee shop.
These regular transformations emphasize Owen’s desire for an “organic” spot on campus. By feeding off various responses, he has created The Daily Grind to be an outlet centered on community expression. He chooses to focus on the product, and the rest falls into place.
“There are no rules here,” he said.
“If you look out there now, or on any weekday afternoon, there are spiritual groups, student and teacher advisors, study partners, collections of friends — all meeting and coming together in an eclectic soup,” said Owen. “This building has a personality. We aren’t Starbucks. We’re not trying to sell you a teapot. Instead, we want to give you the best quality products that we can.”
If it can be made from scratch, they will make it. From chai tea lattes to chocolate, many of the ingredients are Grind-made and mixed by the baristas. Owen offers products that enable consumers to appreciate and love their palate for coffee. Most of the espresso-based drinks, like mochas and lattes, offer that experience. By recognizing the full creation of a drink from scratch, one can learn to appreciate its various elements—the hints of chocolate, malt, or even floral.
Through his many jobs and life adventures, Owen has learned to love creating products for the enjoyment of others. He has waited tables in the Virgin Islands, worked as a hairdresser in Richmond, and even helped a friend manage a prosciutto ham company in Colonial Heights, Va. He has a passion for a multitude of experiences and always seems eager to learn something new. In his more than 40 years of working, Owen has had more than 50 jobs—at some points, working four or five smaller jobs at a time.
The Daily Grind is the place he has worked the longest.
“In 12 years,” he said, “there has never been a day I haven’t wanted to come into work.”
Yet, in this space, what Owen sees is a community of people who are doing their own thing. Similar to his personal mom-and-pop business approach, Owen has inspired others to come in, relax and enjoy the company of those around them.
Many students, however, have never stopped in. Though he realizes there are some students who may never visit The Daily Grind during their time at William & Mary, Owen remain optimistic and hopeful.
“The things we fear the most in life are often the things we don’t know,” he said. “So, why not just come in, grab a drink, and get to know them?”
Maybe even try one of those chocolate chip scones Owen takes such pride in crafting, fresh from the oven.