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How this Dallas craft coffee shop is helping change the world

Russell Hayward set out to make Ascension different, not only through the experience in the shop, but through global humanitarian efforts.

Landon Haaf

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The story of Dallas’ Ascension Coffee starts in The Espresso, a small coffee shop in Sydney, Australia.

It was there that Russell Hayward, a native Australian, developed a love for coffee when he was 15 years old.

“After school you’d kind of hit the local milk bar, as they were called in those days, but they’re really coffee shops,” Hayward said from Ascension’s roastery in Dallas’ Design District. “You’d get a cappuccino and kind of hang out on the council walls and shoot it with your buddies.”

In adulthood, Hayward began work in advertising and in the Rock ‘n’ Roll business -- which took him to the United States in 1991. He produced and promoted concerts, including one of the biggest gatherings of guitarists in history for Guitar Player Magazine at a theater in San Francisco.

Russell Hayward

He moved to Dallas in 2001 to get into the restaurant business. He opened a few sizeable bars, he says, but there was something missing.

“There was a lack of meaning for me in [operating bars],” he said. “My best customers were probably the ones I shouldn’t be serving. That’s unfortunately a truism of bars.”

His love of coffee never wavered, and his pursuit of a good cup of Joe never ceased. He found a spot to get just that in Dallas: Torrefazione on Travis Walk. It was a place where you could hang out and have a conversation over a (maybe oversized) cappuccino.

That is, until Starbucks bought them out, marking another decline in the craft coffee scene.

“I was frustrated this time by aluminum chairs, by filthy tables, no music, long lines, baristas that really didn’t care,” he said. “Everything in my world was so bad as far as how I saw coffee shops at that time.”

Well, you know the saying: If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.

Hayward’s good friend, Jonn Baudoin, had the same thought. He called Hayward and said, “let’s open a coffee shop.”

That’s the simple story of the genesis of Ascension Coffee.