The Vinyl Grind is a local cafe that doubles as a record store and is located seven steps below ground. After closing for a year due to COVID-19, the cafe has opened back up.
Owner of The Vinyl Grind, Blake Delaney, describes the cafe as almost a speakeasy for vinyl and coffee that also feels like a secret club. He says once you find out about it, you just want to keep coming back.
Delaney has owned The Vinyl Grind for seven years now after working in flooring and being a huge fan of the cafe. Delaney describes his job as a dream come true. When he was a kid, he was required for school to keep a journal in which he made several entries about owning a record store.
Delaney credits his former mother-in-law — or, as he now calls her, his outlaw mother-in-law — for pushing him to chase his dream and buy The Vinyl Grind.
There are typically about 1,000-1,500 records for sale at any given time while always looking for new records to sell. Delaney says due to COVID-19, he has found that more people have begun collecting and looking to purchase records, creating a huge demand for them.
Delaney shares one of their mottos: “Come for the coffee, stay for the conversation.”
“You come in by yourself and you will meet somebody, you’ll have a conversation and you’ll become part of this unique, underground family that we have,” Delaney said.
Delaney really values a great atmosphere, service and ambiance, and he works to create and maintain that at The Vinyl Grind. Humor is also a big part of the experience at the shop, and it's used to make everyone feel welcome and at home.
There is also a lot of pride in the coffee sold. The Vinyl Grind is the only place in Ames that Broadway Roasting will sell to. Broadway Roasting is the oldest roasting company in Kansas City, and the coffee is shipped fresh every week.
The Vinyl Grind is known for its cold press and lattes. It also has about 60 different flavors of syrups to choose from, creating endless combinations. The syrups use pure cane sugar and natural ingredients for great-quality drinks. One of the most popular drinks is called Jane’s Addiction, and it is flavored with white chocolate and lavender. Another drink is called Andy Warhol, which is flavored with banana and hazelnut.
He encourages customers to try new flavors, and if they tell him they don’t like it, he'll buy them a new drink so they don’t need to worry about taking that risk.
“We want people to take chances down here, that’s why I buy all these different syrups, so we kind of get people outside of the box of what is normal in coffee,” Delaney said.
Delaney is excited to have his shop open again after being closed for a year due to COVID-19. He just opened back up about a month ago. He did a very soft opening by not posting on social media or even putting out the open sign to get a slow trickle of customers in. Delaney was focused on figuring out how to get a safe amount of people in the cafe.
“That gave me time to also learn how to do what I did again after a year of being off,” Delaney said. “I’m like a sixth grade boy after summer, I don’t remember anything. I needed to remember how to make coffee and things to order. I’m glad we had time to kind of ramp up.”
The open sign is now outside, and the cafe has been quite busy since. Delaney is very focused on safety in his small shop. He only allows six customers in at a time, and face coverings are required.
“We’re trying to be as laid back as we can, like we always are, but right now, we’re still just in the play-it-safe zone,” Delaney said.
Delaney added that no one has given any trouble about wearing a face covering or abiding by the rules. He said the cafe is still very laid back and everyone is still cracking jokes.
“Once you come in here a lot, you’re more than a guest, you’re more like family," Delaney said. "We get to know your name, we get to know what drink you drink.”
Delaney thanks the family that has formed through The Vinyl Grind, and he devotes his time to them.
“I owe it to the people to make it safe, and I owe it to the people to make it a cool place because they’ve made it possible for me to even have a place,” he said.
Delaney notes that many people come out of their shell in The Vinyl Grind. They talk to people, crack jokes and dance to the live music. He is proud to own a place that helps people destress and feel comfortable.
Delaney said The Vinyl Grind does not compare to franchise cafes such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts because he knows they are looking to create different experiences. Franchise cafes have different goals, such as convenience.
“We strive to create a one-on-one experience with everybody that comes through the door," Delaney said. "We don’t have a drive-thru, you have to go down seven steps to get to us, so we have to work super hard to make sure you come back because we’re making you work to get here.”
Delaney hopes Iowa State students check out The Vinyl Grind and get more of the downtown Ames experience, which he said he missed when he was a student.