Quaint cafe opens in cultural district offering records, coffee, pastries


Photo: John Lonsdale/Iowa State Daily

Christine Hendershot prepares a coffee beverage at the Ames Vinyl Cafe. The cafe offers free-trade coffee, fresh baked pastries and vinyl records for customers to purchase and enjoy.

John Lonsdale

It all started with love and family; then came the records, the basement and the coffee.

Wooden crates separate the new, old and used records in alphabetical order, and the deliciously tempting aroma of coffee, homemade pastries and vinyl permeate the quaint space that is the Ames Vinyl Cafe, located in the Main Street Cultural District.

If a person blinks while passing the cafe they might miss it. Having undergone renovations in August 2009, the cafe reopened May 5, 2010.

The cafe is located in the brick building around the corner from the Ames Cupcake Emporium, formerly known as Yummy’s Cupcake Emporium. It can be found beneath the 5-foot vinyl record sign hanging from the side of the building and down a flight of stairs.

Owners Ben and Rachelle Hull had little idea of the undertaking that the cafe would be when they began the project in 2009.

“It was one of those things that if you knew what to expect, you probably wouldn’t have done it,” Ben said. “It was like, ‘Whoa, what a nightmare,’ but I’m glad we did it.”

Ben and Rachelle signed the lease and started renovations in August 2009. The city of Ames came in to do an inspection and told the Hulls they couldn’t open until they built a handicap accessible bathroom in the space.

“It ended up costing so much more money,” Ben said. “I [had] to stop and make more money to pay for the electrical and plumbing. We did all new everything … tearing everything out, adding outlets for Wi-Fi for people with computers. I’m really glad it’s done, but it was a lot more than expected.”

When money gets tight, Ben returns to doing construction and roofing work. He has a few cleaning jobs and said he probably always will. The day of his interview, he was on his way to one of these jobs that he tried to move away from by opening the cafe.

“The main reason [for opening the Vinyl Cafe] was to be able to work with [Rachelle],” Ben said. “We were just so busy and tired of being apart from each other. This type of work we’re a really good team.”

Ben said Rachelle is good at all the things he is not.

She works in the store usually 6 to 12 hours a week because she does all the purchasing for the cafe and finds the good deals for various things, like the cups they use. She also makes the clocks and screen prints T-shirts and bags. Right now, she is designing a different addition to make to the sign outside that will make it more noticeable.

“She’s a very creative person … really awesome,” Ben said.

Married for five years, the Hulls have known each other their entire lives. Their mothers are good friends and both had mutual friends before they started dating.

The couple has collected more than 10,000 records; 6,000 of which they keep in back catalogs. The remaining 4,000 are for sale along with a selection of record players in the basement.

Ben, 26, began listening to his dad’s record collection as a child and began collecting his own sporadically at garage sales, Goodwill, vacations or trips he and Rachelle would go on, and has since moved on to buying entire collections from sellers.

In the beginning, Ben thought of the coffee shop and Rachelle thought of adding the records in the mix.

“[We] give you something different,” Rachelle said. “I guess there are places like us in Seattle, but you don’t see a whole lot in Iowa … especially in Ames.

“It’s super awesome when someone comes in and says, ‘I’ve been looking for this record for 15 years,’ and we have it. To have someone so excited for that record makes up for everything.”

Even though learning how to make the different coffee drinks was difficult at first, the couple has learned a lot since opening in May.

Neither had any previous knowledge as baristas and didn’t even know what went in to making a latte or a cappuccino. However, they learned everything they know from a good friend who roasts the coffee they serve, so it’s smoother and has a less bitter taste. Their friend also taught them to roast the coffee according to smell, not according to temperature and time.

“I’ve had people come from other competing coffee places and say how much better it is than theirs,” Rachelle said. “They’ve also said they’d vote us best coffee in Story County if there was such a thing. The quality we try to deal with each cup is a lot different than what other people try to do.”

“The feel of the music while you’re drinking a cup, I don’t know, it’s pretty awesome.”

Despite having good coffee, the cafe also sells pastries made by Rachelle’s sister, Christine Hendershot.

Born and raised in Ames with her sister, Hendershot is the founder of BugaBoo Crafts & Services, named after her son, Barak. Nicknamed “BugaBoo,” Barak was born with craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which one or more of the joints between the bones of the infant’s skull close prematurely, before the brain is fully formed, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

Wanting to offer some of her talents to the cafe, Hendershot got her kitchen license about a year and a half ago when she moved back to the area.

She bakes six days a week and her specialty items are her cinnamon beehives, moist scones, biscotti and bran muffins that are made with recipes from her grandmother who taught her how to cook. All are sold at the cafe.

Hendershot gets to keep all of the profits she makes from her contributions to the cafe.

Rachelle said her sister is doing them a huge favor by making the pastries, because they seem to draw a lot of customers.

Along with her sister, Hendershot creates different crafts sold throughout the cafe. She said she loves how her brother-in-law’s goal is to keep the cafe as it is so they can keep it in the family and so everyone can share their talents with the public as well as the “hole-in-the-wall” character it possesses.

“I like the feel of our shop,” Rachelle said. “We made it like home and just want to keep that quality the way it is basically. I love when people come down and say it feels like home. Just the whole fact that I can sit and listen to music and talk to people about it and their passions for coffee; that’s probably my favorite thing.

“Every day there is someone new coming in and saying they have to tell a family member about this. There’s never been a place like this. [That’s what] it says to me. People want to come back.”

Because of the tight space, the Hulls have been asked by many why they don’t move to a bigger location, but the couple really has no interest in expanding.

“We’re not a big chain store,” Ben said. “Everything is so personal to us as a store, and we try very hard to make it as good as we can.”