Grace Coffee Co. has started off strong

In less than two years, the owners have opened four locations.
Pablo the dog next to Carlos Falcon in Grace Coffee co
Photo by Larry Chua
Carlos Falcon with Pablo at Middleton's Grace Coffee Co.

At a time when many businesses are struggling — some even closing their doors — Carlos Falcon and Nicki Bloomer have found success with Grace Coffee Co. Grace has four locations. All opened within the last two years — two of them during the pandemic. The secret sauce, Falcon says, is their focus on community — that’s what keeps customers coming back. “Grace is the place that if you’re having a bad day, we’re going to make sure that we change that and bring a smile to your face,” Falcon says.

Falcon has worked in the coffee business since he was 18 years old, owning coffee shops in Seattle, Washington, where he grew up. He moved to Madison in early 2019. He was surprised at the lack of coffee shops with a community-focused atmosphere. “It was one of the things that shocked me,” says Falcon. “Most of the tables [at coffee shops] in the Pacific Northwest, they are community tables. People come in and they sit right next to each other. All of a sudden you find yourself talking to each other.”

After his move to Madison, Falcon was walking around State Street and spotted the building that is now home to the first Grace Coffee Co. location. He says it was an old yet beautiful building, and no one was using it. Falcon opened this spot in April 2019 but faced a hurdle after painting the brick and stone black. While the more than 135-year-old building is not designated as historic, the Urban Design Commission requires owners to get permission before making changes. The paint lasted only a couple days as the city ordered it to be removed following local outcry.

While the black paint was removed on the exterior, the hip black-and-white vibe is carried through inside. If you’ve visited any of its locations, you’re aware of Grace’s aesthetic — quartz and marble throughout, hand-painted artwork and lush greenery. Falcon says the plants give a “feeling of life.” “Grace is the coffee shop [where] everyone can feel safe,” Falcon says. You might also get a burst of joy from service dogs Pablo and Diego.

latte art on top of a cup of coffee

Photo by Larry Chua

Eight months after opening on State Street, Falcon teamed up with Bloomer to open on East Washington Avenue. That location was a game changer, Falcon says. At Grace on State Street, they had served fresh fruit, granola, breakfast wraps and a few other items. But at the East Washington Avenue shop, they built a kitchen and Falcon convinced his sister, Claudia, a trained pastry chef, to move from Seattle to Madison. They now serve cookies, muffins, more than 30 different croissants, brunch and lunch.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the state’s Safer at Home order was imposed, Falcon adjusted his business to offer grab-and-gos. “We’re not able to serve in-house, sure. Let’s try to bring our product to the people,” Falcon says.

Falcon and Bloomer didn’t let the pandemic keep them from opening additional shops. Grace moved into Sun Prairie in August 2020. At that location, Falcon and team included its first drive-thru. Falcon told himself, “I’m just going to go for it and I’m going to learn the process and we’re going to try to do our best.” Late last year they opened a fourth Grace in Middleton.

Falcon has plans to open another Grace in Waunakee, and one or two locations in Milwaukee. “Every single one of the locations that we try to open, we’re going to make sure that we’re bringing an amazing level of respect to our neighbors,” he says. “We want to make the name Grace go beyond a coffee shop.”

Hywania Thompson is a Madison-based freelance writer.Magazine footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"