Common Ground Coffee &Cupcakes, nestled in the corner of South Third Street and Wells Avenue South, was packed with almost 400 customers on March 10. Owners Lange and Henge Woon opened their store to their customers, old and new, to celebrate a milestone — their 10th anniversary.
However, more than a decade ago, the shop was merely a dream Lange had in his prayer closet. At the time, they had recently closed down their espresso bar in Tukwila, and Lange continued to work at Boeing while Heng worked as a waitress.
One sleepless night, Lange retreated into his prayer closet.
“It started bothering me in my prayer state. I became aware that my wife was working so hard for other people as a waitress,” he said. “She would build up all these restaurants over the years and never really got a lot of recognition.”
He felt things had to change and he needed to take matters to his own hands. But the question remained — how was he going to make that dream a reality?
The next day, when he turned his computer on, he saw a screen filled with cupcakes and his jaw fell open. This was the answer to his question. He wanted to open a cupcake store for Heng.
So he rolled up his sleeves and went to work on researching the viability of a cupcake store. He found that cupcakes were all the craze and cupcake stores all over the country were attracting mile-long lines.
Lange and Heng drove throughout the Pacific Northwest to study how different cupcake stores operated and the traffic they attracted.
“When I took her to those places, she became convinced that there is a trend happening,” Lange said.
With Heng on board, the couple started to figure out the best spot in the Seattle area to set up camp. Turns out, home was the best option.
“Originally I chose this place because I did a demographic study of where the people were living and moving and commuting from,” said Lange. “I was looking for a place that would be the next Ballard. In my mind, it had to be Renton because of the I-405 and I-5. It’s close enough to downtown Seattle. So I saw this was the next progression of where it was going to happen.”
In a leap of faith, he signed a 15-year lease, an unusual move for most small business owners.
After opening their doors in 2007, the recession hit and business didn’t boom as they predicted for the first few years. Soon enough, the economy and their businesses picked up, and according to Lange, this has been the busiest year yet.
Over the past 10 years, Heng and Lange said they’ve gotten to know their customers intimately.
“We’ve been here 10 years. Everybody knows us,” Lange said. “The kids are grown up. A lot of the kid now are in college. And some are bringing their kids back. Their mom and dads brought them, and now they’re bringing their little kids in. The second generation remembers us.”
The secret to their success, he continued pointing to the wall above the entrance, is their business motto that reads “Live well, laugh often, love much… and eat a cupcake.”
“Anybody can make a cupcake, anybody can make coffee, but not everybody can love people,” he said. “If you remember it’s your service and how you treat people, you can’t duplicate that. You can’t have that as a strategic plan. You can’t make that a corporate strategy. It has to come from the heart. That’s your secret weapon against any business.”