New coffee franchise opens in place of High Ground Cafe

The new shop, called Coffee Emporium, recently took over the space.


Emily Nyberg

Michael Martin, lead barista at Coffee Emporium in Iowa City, makes coffee on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Coffee Emporium, formerly High ground Coffee, recently underwent a name change due to new ownership.

Hannah Lipski, News Reporter

Almost a month after opening, the Coffee Emporium on Iowa City’s Northside is seeing an influx of customers.

The new shop opened April 4 in what was once High Ground Cafe at 301 E. Market St., four days after the shop’s internal remodel began.

Map by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

Abby Ochs, owner of Coffee Emporium, said she started the process of buying the location around October 2022. Ochs said she reached out to the former owner of High Ground Cafe with intent to buy the space.

“I knew he was a single shop owner, and oftentimes, when you’ve owned a shop for over five years, there can be that potential of burnout,” Ochs said.

Originally, Ochs said she was looking at real estate around the corner from High Ground Cafe. Instead of purchasing that space, Ochs said she did not want to be a competitor to High Ground and decided to ask if the owner was open to her taking the space over.

Ochs has owned the Coffee Emporium brand for just over two years, purchasing the brand’s location in Cedar Rapids in late 2020, which has since transitioned to a new company and owner.

“There’s two very different cultures between Cedar Rapids and, like, the Coralville, Iowa City area,” Ochs said.

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The Coffee Emporium also has a location in Coralville, which opened in 2021. The brand is planning to open another location in Tiffin on May 7.

Ochs said she feels that Iowa City better matches the culture and mindset that a place like Coffee Emporium needs. She said she wanted to open a business in a college town.

“We want to kind of be able to be that place, that one stop location where everyone feels welcome and comfortable, and that is very much the atmosphere that is there in Iowa City,” Ochs said.

Moving forward, Coffee Emporium will include different food options than High Ground offered, including a breakfast menu and coffee cocktails, pending a liquor license.

All 13 employees who were working at High Ground Cafe when Ochs purchased it decided to stay for the transition and rebranding.

Branden White, a barista at Coffee Emporium, said it is nice to have the job still after working at High Ground on and off for three years, and he likes Ochs as an employer.

Since the transition, White said there has been a slight increase in customers. The two shops are  similar and the main difference is the food menu, but the new name is also bringing back older customers who might have been deterred from going to High Ground.

“We’ve been bringing in some customers that refused to actually come in when Wes was the owner because they didn’t like Wes,” White said.

While some employees are happy with the changes, other Iowa City community members were dismayed to find out about the rebranding. Bridget Dieden, a University of Iowa first-year student, found out about the transition in one of her acting classes.

“I was furious,” Dieden said, “That’s literally my favorite coffee shop in Iowa City. I would go there all of the time.”

Additionally, Dieden said she was upset to find out that a $30 gift card she received for High Ground could no longer be used. She said she felt that there was not any type of notice given to the Iowa City community about this transition and rebranding, and she really liked the vibes of High Ground Cafe.

“I’m kind of appalled to hear that they’ve painted it blue,” Dieden said.