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A new chapter opens in the downtown Wooster dining scene

I think we all have this desire to be the first – or at least not last - on the bandwagon.

That new album that just came out? Please, I’ve had that on my iPod for years.

You found a hidden gem of a coffee shop today? Good for you. So did these other 50 people - last year.

You get what I’m saying? It’s a silly thing – perhaps born of some instinctual patronization gene that only rears its condescending head at the most opportune moments.

I broach this topic because I can remember being said uninformed consumer back in 2007 – when smart phones were scarce and the idea of wifi was just starting to pop up in downtown Wooster. I’d recently started working days and, for the first time in my professional career, was beginning to understand the value behind a good, solid coffee shop with rocking pastries.

Coffee shops always had a stigma to me. I blame “Friends” for that, and as such would do anything in my power to avoid being a yuppie/hippie/socialite.

But I digress.

I remember walking down the stairs for the first time to Muddy Waters – which at the time resided in a cozy little space below street level in Mike Rose’s Liberty Street Commons.

Behind the counter were the owners – Paula Tafoya, who obviously knew every customer in the door, and her husband, Dennis, who, still to this day, was/is always doing something in the kitchen.

Muddy Waters was an experience. It was an entire community of people and things and smells and cultures that I’d clearly missed the boat on. And they had this thing called an “addiction bar.” Sweet sassy molassy.

And apparently I was the only one unaware of their existence.

But before long I was practically a regular, and had the opportunity to become good friends with the Tafoyas.

I was fortunate to document it via the newspaper when they expanded in 2009, moving their entire operation down the street to the former Pierce’s Sporting Goods space on East Liberty Street, where they did a complete overhaul of not only the building, but also their entire business model.

They weren’t just a coffee shop anymore. They were a full-service restaurant/bar/breakfast joint/live music destination. And they were quite good at it.

While they tasted immediate success upon opening, they’ve also had the additional triumph of sustaining it over the long haul.

But last week I popped in for some lunch fixin’s and Paula slapped her cell phone down on the bar in front of me. The screen had blueprints on it. Fancy ones. With indoor and outdoor bar seating, a place for live music, and all sorts of seating options.

As it turns out, Dennis and Paula will be on the move once again in the coming months, just down the street to another well-known Wooster location. Soon they’ll start the build out that will transform the former Art Bucher car dealership show room, 405 E. Liberty St., into their new digs. In the process, they’ll be adding yet another piece to the downtown’s incredible independent dining scene by expanding on their own niche.

In a lot of ways, the Tafoyas, along with a number of other names – from Mariola to Kennedy to Grumbling to Barnes to Tieche to Erdos to Hull etc., - are representative of what’s happened in the downtown over the last 20 years. These are people who’ve put their own sweat and dollars into city’s biggest attraction.

Sometimes I think locals take it all for granted. I don’t. I live in Ashland – which in many ways resembles downtown Wooster circa 1993.

That’s why I learned my lesson after discovering Muddy Waters for the first time. Get to know these people. They’re the movers and shakers of the city.

Stay plugged in to what’s happening. You’ll never be left off the bandwagon again.

Published: March 18, 2015
New Article ID: 2015703189988