The Little Coffee Shop That Could
The Little Coffee Shop That Could
Lawn Mower
The Little Coffee Shop That Could
The Coffee Barrel finds uncommon, impactful ways to build community in South Texas
By Ashley Greene Bernick
Photos & Illustrations by Diana Terry
On a hot, muggy Friday morning in September, the Coffee Barrel is buzzing with activity.
Muggy Friday morning Both tables and the two seats at the bar are occupied; customers sip coffee, iced lattes, and indulgent frozen fraps topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. A handful more people brave the 90-degrees-but-feels-like-100 heat on the Coffee Barrel’s back patio.
Ariat
On a hot, muggy Friday morning in September, the Coffee Barrel is buzzing with activity.
Muggy Friday morning
On a hot, muggy Friday morning in September, the Coffee Barrel is buzzing with activity. Both tables and the two seats at the bar are occupied; customers sip coffee, iced lattes, and indulgent frozen fraps topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. A handful more people brave the 90-degrees-but-feels-like-100 heat on the Coffee Barrel’s back patio.
Ariat
/ The coffee house symphony’s in full swing /
The friendly chatter and order-placing, the bumbles and drips of the espresso machine, and the whir of the air conditioner are periodically pierced by the ding of the drive-thru bell, signaling one of the baristas to the window.

This quaint coffee shop built inside a little red house plays a special role in Beeville, Texas, a small town roughly 100 miles southeast of San Antonio. Along with being the only place to get gourmet coffee drinks in the area, it operates with an emphasis on building community.

Coffee Barrel barista
Coffee Barrel barista Loni Arrendondo prepares a beverage.
The Coffee Barrel
The Coffee Barrel was built in a small red house in Beeville, Texas
Dr. Dhaval Patel
Coffee Barrel co-owner Dr. Dhaval Patel
Fajita lunch
An Uncommon Table steak fajita lunch
Dr. Dhaval Patel, a 46-year-old man with silver hair, a thin, cleanly trimmed beard, and big brown eyes enters through back door. Dhaval, who co-owns the Coffee Barrel with his wife, Patricia, greets his customers, most of whom are familiar faces and loyal regulars. After a handshake here and a pat on the back there, Dhaval steps aside to answer a text message, then moves swiftly to change the trash in the seating area.

For Dhaval, running a coffee shop requires long hours on his feet every day. And today’s a particularly busy day: On Fridays, the Coffee Barrel runs a special lunch event called Uncommon Table. It’s aimed at encouraging healthy eating, educating locals about diverse cuisines, and providing them a fresh, affordable lunch option, something that’s relatively “uncommon” for the area. On the menu today is a Tex-Mex classic: steak fajitas paired with rice, guacamole, beans, and tortillas.

The Coffee Barrel
The Coffee Barrel was built in a small red house in Beeville, Texas
It’s aimed at encouraging healthy eating, educating locals about diverse cuisines, and providing them a fresh, affordable lunch option, something that’s relatively “uncommon” for the area.
Dr. Dhaval Patel
Coffee Barrel co-owner Dr. Dhaval Patel
Fajita lunch
An Uncommon Table steak fajita lunch
Dr. Dhaval Patel, a 46-year-old man with silver hair, a thin, cleanly trimmed beard, and big brown eyes enters through back door. Dhaval, who co-owns the Coffee Barrel with his wife, Patricia, greets his customers, most of whom are familiar faces and loyal regulars. After a handshake here and a pat on the back there, Dhaval steps aside to answer a text message, then moves swiftly to change the trash in the seating area.

For Dhaval, running a coffee shop requires long hours on his feet every day. And today’s a particularly busy day: On Fridays, the Coffee Barrel runs a special lunch event called Uncommon Table. It’s aimed at encouraging healthy eating, educating locals about diverse cuisines, and providing them a fresh, affordable lunch option, something that’s relatively “uncommon” for the area. On the menu today is a Tex-Mex classic: steak fajitas paired with rice, guacamole, beans, and tortillas.

Coffee Shop
In the Coffee Barrel’s yard, Jarvis Wigfall, who helps out at the shop, is grilling meat for the meal. “[Every week], we set a time on Thursday to start prep. Last night, that was at 9:30. We cooked all night, went home, took a shower, and came back here,” he says, wiping sweat from his brow. It’s roughly 11 a.m., which means the team dedicated just over 12 hours overnight to make this special meal for customers, some of whom placed their orders earlier in the week to ensure they get a plate before it runs out. On a good day, the Coffee Barrel sells about 60 Uncommon Table lunches.

Uncommon Table and other Coffee Barrel food events usually feature ingredients grown in the shop’s community garden. Today, however, the garden’s 25 raised beds are bare. That’s because the summer produce has already been harvested and the soil was just refreshed for the fall planting event the Coffee Barrel is hosting Saturday—another initiative Dhaval and his team run to encourage healthy, homegrown eating.

Jarvis Wigfall
Coffee Barrel’s Uncommon Table food
Jarvis Wigfall helps out with the Coffee Barrel’s Uncommon Table food initiatives.
The Coffee Barrel’s community
The Coffee Barrel’s community garden beds before the fall planting event in September
Boxes of donated plants—broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cilantro, basil, sage, thyme, dill, and more—as well as seeds are lined up on the patio, ready to be planted for the garden’s third planting season. Each box has been claimed by a school group, family, business, or other local entity at no charge. Throughout each season, they’re encouraged to come by the garden and pick produce as it’s ready. On Thursdays, Dhaval gathers any ripe produce left in the boxes and puts it on the porch of the Coffee Barrel for anyone to take home.

Dhaval expects roughly 200 people will attend the planting event Saturday. After an overnight shift, plenty of prep still needs to be done. The day is far from over.

Planting Event
Variety of plants
Bonnie Plants
Bonnie Plants donated a large variety of plants for the planting event
“The big vision is one word: It’s community. You take the word community and it’s got the word common and it’s got the word unity. We’re trying to flip that and brand something called ‘Uncommon.’ It’s uncommon because we’re bringing people together in a new way.”
-Dhaval Patel, co-owner of the Coffee Barrel
/ The Uncommon Route /
It’s now after 5 p.m., and the Coffee Barrel’s closed. Dhaval and Jarvis take a much-needed moment of rest to relish in their success of the day—selling out of the fajitas by 1 p.m.—and work through the remaining logistics for the next day’s planting event.

A Texas native and trained doctor, Dhaval and Patricia traveled extensively for his work in healthcare before moving back to the area in 2013.

Whether in South Africa, the United Kingdom, or the United States—just three of the 90 countries Dhaval has traveled to or lived in—he found tackling communities’ health issues requires a broad, holistic approach. “There are three things that a positive, impactful, sustainable community always has: That’s some form of education; a healthcare pillar; and it has economic livelihood.”

Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity are prevalent in South Texas, Dhaval says. Combating those requires looking at education, health, and job creation all together. “I know I can’t influence healthcare unless I focus on all those things,” he says.

When Dhaval and Patricia acquired the Coffee Barrel nearly two years ago, he knew he would operate the business in ways that supports the local community, focusing on those three pillars. That’s what inspired both the garden and the Uncommon Table lunches, as well as a slew of other initiatives the Coffee Barrel runs with local partners, including giving vocational students work experience in the Coffee Barrel and the recently launched Uncommon Teacher Grants for local educators.

Coffee Barrel co-owner Dr. Dhaval Patel
The Coffee Barrel prepares fresh, health-minded meals made with the produce grown in the community garden.
Images courtesy of Dhaval Patel.
“The big vision is one word: It’s community. You take the word community and it’s got the word common and it’s got the word unity,” Dhaval says. “We’re trying to flip that and brand something called ‘Uncommon.’ It’s uncommon because we’re bringing people together in a new way.”

That vision—along with his infectious friendliness—has gotten Dhaval many diverse supporters, from Jarvis, a veteran from South Carolina, to the retired country gospel duo David and Linda Carlson who volunteer to perform at every planting event, to Nancy Cavallin, known locally as Ms. Nancy, a science teacher at St. Mary’s Academy Charter School who regularly brings her students to the Coffee Barrel garden.

MuttNation Pet Gifting
Coffee Barrel garden
/ Reaping the Fruits of Labor /
At 11 a.m. the following day, the Coffee Barrel’s bustling again. The planting event doesn’t technically start for another hour, but a few families and groups are already here, perusing the plant selection and working on their boxes. Jarvis mans the grill again, this time preparing hot dogs and burgers. Across the yard, the Carlsons adjust their microphones and start their set.

It’s another hot day, and thick storm clouds loom overhead. It’s so humid you can see the vapor around people’s iced coffee drinks; it looks like steam. No one seems worried about the weather, though.

Dhaval, sporting a Coffee Barrel hat and T-shirt he’s already sweat through, moves quickly around the yard to help people and welcome newcomers. “You guys good here? Everyone know everybody?,” he asks a group of adults on the patio.

With the exception of a short spat of rain around noon that sends everyone under the covered patio for a bit, the garden stays busy for hours. After people have planted, they linger, socializing and helping those still working on their beds. Young children play tag, running up and down the Coffee Barrel’s porch ramp.

Country gospel duo
Coffee Barrel’s fall planting event
Children learn to plant
From Top to bottom: Country gospel duo David and Linda Carlson performing at the Coffee Barrel’s fall planting event; families begin arriving at the event; children learn to plant
St. Mary’s Academy Charter School
Nancy Cavillin, a science teacher at St. Mary’s Academy Charter School, works with her students on their garden box.
In the back corner of the garden, Ms. Nancy has 13 fourth, fifth, and sixth graders gathered around the St. Mary’s box.

“We’re planting a square-foot garden. We mark off every foot in there, and we plant so many plants in each square foot,” Ms. Nancy says.

She turns to her students, and says, “Look at the corners. We planted dill and mint there. Why?”

Several students raise their hands, but one boy blurts out, “They need more space!”

He’s right.

St. Mary’s box
Children from various schools
Groups learn to plant
Kids learning to plant
Children from various schools and groups learn to plant and decorate their boxes.
“If the younger kids can get it, [adults can also] have a better understanding of how we impact the environment, and how easy and affordable it is for us to invest in ourselves, and what we put in our bodies.”
-Jarvis Wigfall, friend of the Coffee Barrel
After today’s planting event, Ms. Nancy’s students will come every Thursday to do work in the garden. They’ll put in time watering, pruning, and harvesting. They’ll get to see seeds grow into plants, and plants become part of delicious meals. It’s a small victory for the Coffee Barrel, but it’s a sign of impact, nonetheless.

“It’s huge to see the younger kids here,” Jarvis says. “If the younger kids can get it, [adults can also] have a better understanding of how we impact the environment, and how easy and affordable it is for us to invest in ourselves, and what we put in our bodies.”

The Coffee Barrel’s planting event brought a variety of community members together.
To learn more about the Coffee Barrel, visit the shop’s Facebook page.
About the Writer
Ashley Greene Bernick is the editor of Out Here.

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