Despite numerous ownership changes, uses and renovations, 101 East Wiggin Street, home to Wiggin Street Coffee, remains one of the oldest frame structures in the town of Gambier. Built in 1840, it operated at various points, as a grocery store, drug store a post office and a student union.
In early 1984, in the hopes of creating a late-night alternative and expanding available business in downtown Gambier, Kenyon formed the so-called “KC committee,” or the Campus Coffeehouse Committee. The committee chose Kris Marcey, wife of a former Professor of Biology X, to run the newly established shop. Marcey started the Red Door Café, identifiable by its vivid red doors. The hours of the shop might surprise some frequent Wiggin’s customers — intended as a late-night and non-alcoholic alternative, the café remained open until 1 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The shop included a stage for various live events: music, poetry readings and a story hour for children on Saturday morning.
Following a bout of financial troubles, Marcey passed the torch onto Jenn Johnson. She frequently hosted art exhibitions in the café, and she invited local artists to display their work to the Kenyon community. The coffeehouse served Starbucks-brand coffee for the first few years of its existence, but eventually switched to fair trade coffee.
In late 2003, Red Door Café’s lease expired. The College felt the café hadn’t met the expectations of the lease, because it was unable to maintain the late-night hours and create a safe late-night alternative to partying. The Kenyon Coffeehouse Committee once again began accepting proposals for a new business in that location. The College allegedly received four proposals by students to create a student-run coffee shop.
The College settled on Joel Gunderson and Margaret Lewis, who opened Middle Ground Coffeehouse in the fall of 2003. The two worked closely with the College to renovate the building, which absorbed a neighboring the Black Box theater to create a larger space.
“Middle Ground was more of a café than Wiggin Street; we definitely focused more of our efforts on food” said Lewis. “We did have an espresso machine, yes, but served three full meals everyday we are food people.” The Middle Ground Coffeehouse menu boasted a Thai peanut chicken wrap, sweet potato fries, quesadillas and much more.
If any of these food items sound familiar to you, it may be because Gunderson and Lewis also own the Village Inn. In the spring of 2007, Gunderson and Lewis reopened the Village Inn, which had been closed for many years previously, and ran the VI as well as Middle Ground. They decided to focus their efforts simultaneously on the Village Inn in 2012. Running two restaurants with small children was particularly challenging for us,” Lewis said. “We barely had a day off for nearly 10 years and it felt like we were not giving either restaurant the attention it needed.”
The building changed hands once again in 2012 and became, Wiggin Street Coffee, one of many coffee shops owned by the River Road Coffeehouse chain. River Road originated in the neighboring town of Granville, home to Denison University. The chain also operates two stores in Newark. Wiggin Street uses fair trade coffee and primarily local products.
Evan Dusthimer ’14 was a student at Kenyon during the spaces transition from Middle Ground to Wiggin Street. “I never really noticed a change between the two. The atmosphere was basically the same; they just changed the name,” he said. “For most students it was the same spot — a good place to go to disconnect and have a cup of coffee.”