The Evolution of Downtown Clearwater: A flurry of coffee shops, cafes

(This is part 4 of a 4-part series about the continuing evolution of downtown Clearwater.)

If you haven't been to downtown Clearwater for a while, you may be impressed by the variety of distinctive spots that now serve first-rate, affordably priced nosh and beverages with sides of unique character, inspiration, and friendly atmosphere.

Grindhouse Coffee, 432 Cleveland St., set the bar high when it opened three years ago. The steampunk-style cafe serves Kahwa coffee from meticulously maintained machines, unique hot and cold teas, homemade sandwiches, salads, crepes, croissants, and pastries and donuts from scratch. The place now features outdoor tables, just in time for the autumn breezes. 

Restoration Cafe ups the ante with humanitarianly sourced beans and free community events on Tuesdays at 7 p.m., which they dub “The LifeTree Series.”

Owner Blake Ferrell, 36, went from crunching numbers to uplifting people with caffeine and sermons. He holds an accounting degree from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Divinity from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.  

“My wife and I moved to Clearwater eight years ago to start a Christian church called Restoration Church. We constantly had a need for a meeting space and also desired to create a space that could be an asset to the community in downtown Clearwater. A coffee shop seemed to fit the bill and we set out on the journey to establish the cafe three and a half years ago. 

Restoration Cafe is open Monday to Saturday and on Sunday mornings for a worship service at the cafe. Ferrell got into the coffee business when his in-laws told him and his wife about a coffee shop that they stumbled on while biking in southwest Ohio. 

“We visited Hemisphere Coffee Roasters on a family trip to Ohio and really enjoyed meeting the owners Paul and Grace. They have a mission to transform coffee communities through business. Paul is a certified Q Grader and frequently visits coffee-growing countries to personalize these relationships.”  

Fresh brewed coffee from primarily Central American beans are featured at Restoration Cafe in downtown Clearwater.When the Ferrells worked through the idea for the coffee shop, they reached out to Hemisphere to see if they would be interested in supplying beans for their shop.  

“We use a Guatemalan bean for our espresso drinks and rotate through a variety of other beans for our fresh brews,” Ferrell explains. “We offer a cold brew made with a Nicaragua bean, which people have really enjoyed. Our cold brew comes with coffee ice cubes to keep the flavor to the last drop.” 

What sets Restoration Cafe apart from others? The welcoming atmosphere, according to Ferrell. 

“I have found so much joy serving people each day. Even more so, I have enjoyed the conversations that have resulted from interactions with our regulars. I am grateful for the openness people have had to share conversation with our staff and one another. I feel there is a real sense of community being cultivated in the space. We constantly get positive comments on the ambiance of the cafe.“ 

Ferrell adds that he has made it a point to be as involved as possible in downtown and is happy with the progress he has seen over the years.  

“I think there are a lot of successes going on that are under-appreciated like the refreshing of the sculptures on Cleveland Street, the murals throughout downtown, the many events and concerts held in downtown month to month, the establishing of Second Century Studios, the slow but steady progress of Imagine Clearwater. There is no reason that downtown Clearwater can't be a vibrant destination for tourists from the beach.”  

Other cafes of note in Clearwater

Gala’s Gelateria and More, 331 Cleveland St., not only serves Italian artisan gelato in a wide range of flavor. You can also order coffee, shakes, croissants, crepes, sandwiches, Illy Italian Espresso made with an imported machine, fresh-baked croissants and crepes, which are available both sweet (Nutella, Fruit, Whipped Cream, and so on) or savory (ham, cheese, prosciutto, mozzarella etc). 

Kara Lynn’s Kitchen, 421 Cleveland St., is a great spot for gluten-free nosh. It’s cozy with organic options and outdoor seating. The menu is meticulously appointed to say the least. They buy organic vegetables and fruits or pick from the clean 15 list; work with food vendors to procure quality grass-fed beef, pastured pork, free-range chicken and eggs, and wild-caught fish and seafood; use honey, maple syrup, Stevia, or coconut sugar instead of refined sugars, and their baked goods are made with almond, coconut, and cashew flours.

Downtown Expresso, 639 Cleveland St., has been praised for their Buddy Brew espresso and cold brews, botanical teas, polite and well-trained baristas and an atmosphere friendly to both humans and their furry friends. 

Southie Coffee, 1500 S. Missouri Ave., just a few minutes outside downtown Clearwater but well worth the pit stop. The cafe is inside an old service station building and serves local organic coffee drinks, fresh nosh, and vegan/gluten-free options.

For more information, visit these websites and Facebook pages:83 Degrees Media's 4-part series on the evolution of downtown Clearwater:
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.