Robert Francis: A good cup of coffee and a river

Ascension Coffee Shop photo by Robert Francis

Texas and Australia have always had a bit of a simpatico connection.
There are the hats, the love of the outdoors, ranching and our Bowie knives and their “That’s not a knife” bit. We may throw ribs in the barbecue pit and they may throw a shrimp on the “barbie,” but it’s the same idea.

Now there’s another connection between the Land of Oz and the Lone Star State: coffee.

An Australian-style coffee shop and café, Ascension Coffee, has just opened in WestBend, the University District’s retail spot along the Trinity River. It’s a hell of a view to have while you’re sipping café au lait and downing a ricotta souffle pancake.

Bagel and coffee Ascension

Ascension originally launched in Dallas in 2012, by restaurateur Russell Hayward. Growing up in Sydney, Australia, mealtime for Hayward meant sitting around a big table with family, friends, fresh food, bantering and debating. Hayward struggled finding a great cup of coffee in a warm, conversation-filled environment in the U.S., so he did what any entrepreneur does. He opened one of his own. After a year spent researching and developing the concept, Hayward opened his first shop in Dallas’ Design District. It was a hit. He’s since opened six locations including this one.

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And while Hayward is from Sydney, General Manager Daniel Velez was raised in Fort Worth and he has been working in various other Ascension locations while waiting to open this one, which was delayed a bit by the pandemic.

“We been waiting to finally open,” he said during a soft opening visit on Friday, Nov. 6 (Ascension officially opened Monday, Nov. 9). Velez knows Fort Worth appreciates good coffee, but he also knows residents want something new, and want a place that understands the area. As such, Fort Worth’s Ascension features several familiar local brands.

“We’re serving local brands like Martin House Brewery, Black-Eyed Vodka and items from Black Rooster Bakery,” said Velez. “I know how proud Fort Worth is of their brands and we want to support our hometown businesses.”

Ascension Coffee barista photo

Ascension features grab & go coffee and local pastries from Black Rooster Bakery, as well as a full-service menu offering all day brekky (Australian slang for breakfast), lunch, brunch and happy hour. Its coffee beans are sourced from countries around the world, such as Rwanda, Kenya, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Papua New Guinea. Along with coffee, there are the Martin House beers and a house wine from Australia as well as other drink options.

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The bagels are from H&H, which, if you’ve spent time in New York, are legendary as well as very good. There are plenty of other offerings, including eggs, Avocado toast, sandwiches and salads.

Hard to believe that our ability to sit and drink coffee while looking at our river has been so long in coming. I remember when I was in college there were a few dining establishments in that area just off University Drive (Daniel’s was one, I can’t recall the others), but even they seemed to turn their back on the river.

Not sure what took us so long, but I’m glad I get to see it. If it took an Australian to bring good coffee and our river together, I’m fine with that too.