TIVERTON, R.I. — On a recent sunny Sunday, David Fierabend stands on the brick patio of his Groundswell Cafe + Bakery, surrounded by a burst of exotic colors — bird of paradise flowers, hibiscus plants, palm trees.
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong pipe through speakers while people dine al fresco under black umbrellas. Oat milk lattes, thick slices of sourdough avocado toast, chocolate croissants, polenta almond cream danish. The vibe is Parisian street cafe.
Adjacent to the patio: fire pits, Adirondack chairs, and a stone path leading to a courtyard bursting with flowers. Fierabend chats with diners, then he’s off to tend to Groundswell Garden + Home across the street. Here, a cherry-red 1966 Ford pickup sits loaded with greens, flowers, ceramic garden decorations. Inside, sensory overload: glass terrariums filled with mossy greens, handmade ceramics, pewter picnicware in a woven basket with leather straps.
Welcome to the new Tiverton Four Corners. If you paid a visit before the pandemic, you may feel like Dorothy walking into Oz: Groundswell has arrived in technicolor.
Four Corners has long been a beating commercial pulse in the Farmcoast — a swath of stonewall-lined farms by the sea, along with vineyards and shops with an Old Yankee flavor, stretching from Little Compton, R.I. to Dartmouth, Mass.
The building adjacent to the cafe is a recent addition. “We’re planning a kitchen store ― linens, glassware, plates, extensive library of cookbooks — everything of your kitchen,” said Fierabend.
Fierabend and his husband, John McDowell, are principal and CFO, respectively, of Groundswell Design Group. The couple now lives in Tiverton. Fierabend grew up in Bucks County, Pa., where he founded Groundswell in 2006, at age 41.
His first career was in retail, running a chain called Knits & Pieces, with stores in Boston’s Faneuil Hall and Newport’s Bowen’s Wharf. He sold that business in 2001 to pursue his dream of landscape architecture. He went back for his master’s in landscape architecture, graduating in 2006 from Florida International University, thinking he would “go into urban planning.”
Soon after Groundswell started, the company “got picked up for a project with Princeton University and it won an AIA Award (American Institute of Architects) right off the bat,” he said. “We rolled with it.”
Soon they were tapped by “restaurateurs who liked our aesthetic. So now we have two divisions: Urban Planning and Interior Design.”
Groundswell has designed for hospitality companies all over the world, including distilleries in Ireland and Manhattan, and a restaurant for “Chopped” celebrity chef Amanda Freitag.
Its urban planning is about “activating cities” — from a Sol Lewitt installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to a stunner of public park in Memphis, with oversized nest and birds eggs. Their most recently project is Cole Hersee in South Boston.
The couple fell in love with Rhode Island, and bought a home in Newport in 1990. They regularly visited Tiverton, often to eat at the Provender.
When a friend told them that building was for sale in 2019, they swooped in — they’d been looking for a home for their concept cafe.
“We didn’t expect it to be here, but the building set the tone. It’s such a beautiful iconic building,” said Fierabend, 62.
They bought the building — and the one across the street ― in 2020. The cafe is done in contrasting blues with touches of gold. You’ll find greenery, camel-colored chairs, displays of French teas, preserves, chocolates.
“I’m obsessed with Paris. I like the fabric, textures, smells — this was my nod,” said Fierabend. “The blues came from blues in Paris and laid the groundwork. It’s the colors and textures of Paris that I wanted to embrace.”
“We don’t encourage computer use,” he said. They don’t encourage work meetings, either. “We just want to maintain that” laid-back feeling. “We’re saying: ‘Get your European on.’”
Coffee is roasted locally in Providence. Breads are baked in-house.
“Everything is French-influenced. We make our own croissants, baguettes, brioches,” he said.
“I love the roasted eggplant salad. We use local farm ingredients,” he said. “And the avocado toast. And the chocolate croissants.”
With their first summer under their belts, they feel embraced by locals and visitors alike.
Groundswell Garden + Home, meanwhile, is “more UK” influenced, Fierabend said. “Great big gardens, not too precious.”
The truck parked near the Four Corners intersection serves as a mascot, sign, and Instagram attraction.
It’s also nod to the company’s Detroit offices: “We found it in a barn in Detroit,” he said. “It’s whimsical.”
They also planted a full meadow in the back of the cafe: “In June, it was like a dream: full of flowering things. Now the sunflowers are starting to wane and goldfinch are eating the seeds. We have a family of rabbits who we talk to every day,” he said with a laugh.
Ironically, for a coastal area known for its surf spots, the name fit.
“We were agonizing over what to call it, my friend said, ‘Why don’t you just call it Groundswell?” Fierabend said. “When we moved here, we got a ton of, ‘Are you guys surfers?’ The name certainly fits the environment.”