New Brighton Heights coffee shop provides ‘Friendly Grounds’ for community


Lateshya Ellis, outside of new coffee shop Friendly Grounds Cafe on California Avenue in Brighton Heights. (Photo/Henry Clay Webster)

Many coffee shops will charge you $4 or $5 for a large drink, and then almost $10 for a sandwich.

Friendly Grounds, a new coffee shop at 3619 California Ave. in Brighton Heights, will never charge you more than $6 for any single item.

Lateshya Ellis, who co-owns the shop with her husband James, said, “We wanted to be where anyone could come in and anyone could afford anything.”

Friendly Grounds occupies the same storefront as the former coffee shop The Vault, which closed in October.

Since Friendly Grounds opened on Jan. 11, Lateshya said business has been “surprisingly steady,” with a morning rush, a lunch rush, and a “happy hour” rush from around 4 to 6 p.m.

“We’ve become the unofficial happy hour spot of Brighton Heights,” she joked.

Aside from the $6 per item price cap, the new coffee shop offers something else most traditional coffee houses don’t — a kid’s menu with peanut butter and jelly, turkey and cheese sandwiches, fruit snacks, milk, hot chocolate and other items.

Many kids will stop in after their school day at Morrow Elementary around the corner, or parents will bring them in. The idea for the kid’s menu came from the two daycares Lateshya owns. Angel Academy has two locations, one of which is also in the 3000 block of California Avenue.

In addition to Angel Academy and friendly grounds, James owns a landscaping business and hopes to incorporate a moving business soon. 

“If she can’t do it, I’ll do it,” James said about their business partnership.

It might seem like a bit much to run four or five small businesses at once, but James said they had excellent employees at all their locations and wouldn’t have been able to make Friendly Grounds work without them. Lateshya also installed cameras in the daycares and coffee shop so she can keep an eye on them from her laptop.

The Ellises saw Friendly Grounds as an opportunity to help the neighborhood, especially since Lateshya had always wanted to run a coffee shop — even the favors at their wedding were coffee-themed.

“I just didn’t expect it to be this soon,” she said. “We didn’t want the business to be vacant on the block. It was more about the community, the children and having the place occupied.”

If a young student makes honor roll, she can bring her report card in and receive a free hot chocolate and a cookie. Friendly Grounds also hosts “Manic Mondays” on the first Monday of every month, where coffee is free all day.

“That’s our way of giving back to the community,” Lateshya said.

The Ellises also use all local suppliers for their coffee and food. They get bread from BreadWorks, meat and cheese from Tom Friday’s Market down the street and coffee from La Prima, located in the Strip District.

The space itself is cozy and conducive to friendly conversation and gatherings. There are three “rooms,” one in front of the bar that looks out at California Avenue and two behind the bar, one of which has a giant wide-screen television.

Lateshya hopes to host community events, as well as things like karaoke, jazz and poetry nights.  In April she’s going to extend her hours to 24 hours a day on Friday and Saturday to give community members alternatives to places like bars or Eat‘n’Park.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Friendly Grounds is hosting a community party in the television room. On Valentine’s Day, Northside photographer Caitlyn Thomas will give free photo sessions for kids and Friendly Grounds will give out Valentine’s cookies in the morning. 

The couple loves the Northside and Brighton Heights because of the diverse demographics, they said. Lateshya grew up in the neighborhood, and James grew up just outside.

As evidence of the Northside’s diversity, Lateshya pointed out that she is the second black woman to open a coffee shop on the Northside, following Terra Jones at Amani Coffee in Historic Deutschtown. 

“We’re just friendly people, and we consider Brighton Heights a friendly community,” Lateshya said.

Friendly Grounds joins other recently opened coffee shops Magnolia Café in Troy Hill and Buena Vista Coffee and Crazy Mocha in the Central Northside.

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