Teen space

(First published in the November 8, 2018 issue of City Pages)

Middle Grounds coffee shop opens in Wausau, exclusively for students


Bob Schneider and Sheila Stark inside their newly launched Middle Grounds Coffee Shop and Teen Center on Thomas Street.

In 2016, Bob Schneider and Sheila Stark started a series of monthly events meant to provide teens with a place to be themselves and socialize, in a drug free, positive environment. Called Middle Grounds, the events were held at various places around Wausau, but they always had their sights set on something bigger.

Last week that something bigger launched: A full-scale coffee shop and teen hang out. Located at 915 1/2 W. Thomas St., the charming, freshly painted blue and white building was a former salon, and on the same block as Holy Name of Jesus Parish. Middle Grounds’ Coffee Shop and Teen Center began with an open house Friday, Nov. 2, and regular hours this week: Tuesday and Thursday 2:30–5:30 pm, and every third Saturday for special events such as movie night, game night or hang out night. The shop is also open Monday mornings 6:00-9:00 am, when parents can see where their kids are going.

But otherwise, only students from 8th grade through college are allowed at the coffee shop, besides Schneider and Stark, who along with student volunteers will run the teen center. They say this give students valuable work experience and a strong work ethic.

The center includes table games and a full coffee bar, with coffee in a variety of flavors, an espresso machine to make lattes and Americanos, and a blender for iced drinks, and even Italian soda. The shop also has a variety of snacks and a popcorn machine, and sells bags of coffee as a fundraiser for Middle Grounds, which operates as a non-profit.

Perhaps most interesting: Everything at the shop is free for students. Schneider and Stark say they might have to set limits so someone doesn’t drink, say, 10 espressos. “We want them to be able to sit down and build relationships with each other, to enjoy themselves and not have to worry about where they’re going to come up with that $5-6 for a cup of coffee,” Schneider says.

The variety of games include foosball, a pool table and carpet ball, a long, carpeted box in which students roll pool balls to hit their opponents balls and score goals.

The Middle Grounds events over the past two years have been well received; Schneider says 20-40 teens regularly attended their monthly events. They hope that interest translates to the coffee shop, which Schneider says is targeting a slightly older demographic than the Boys & Girls Club, for example.

For more information, find Middle Grounds on Facebook, or email [email protected].