With new cafés opening, does our coffee cup overfloweth?
Local owners say the West Michigan market could be just about bottomless.
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) With three of the city’s best-known coffee roasters each ready to open their second retail locations, differentiation is a focus.
Madcap is working on a café at 1041 E. Fulton St., the building where it relocated its roasting facility last year, near the Fulton Street Farmers Market.
Ferris expects to open its new café in the Trust Building by the end of the summer, just down the street from Madcap’s original location.
Rowster announced The Rower’s Club as part of Fulton Place, 616 W. Fulton St., near Ferris’ first café and production facility.
The proximity of competing coffee shops isn’t a major concern, according to Stephen Curtis, vice president of Rowster.
“All of us together are trying to get people to appreciate what good coffee is and tastes like, as opposed to taking someone else out,” Curtis said.
Representatives from all three companies —Curtis, Madcap CEO Trevor Corlett and Ferris Director of Retail David VanTongeren — said the coffee culture in Grand Rapids has improved drastically in the past decade, to the point that they’re each confident in a second location.
The lack of community exposure to coffee was a concern when Madcap was first looking to open nearly a decade ago, Corlett said. The development of coffee culture coincides with the effort from the various roasters and specialty coffee shops, he said, but also with the growing food, beer and cocktail culture and downtown development.
The growth has accelerated in the past three or four years as Madcap began to explore expanding wholesale or retail operations, Corlett said.
Corlett said its new café, attached to the roasting facility, will also feature sourdough Belgian waffles and a large outdoor seating area with a different look and feel from the Monroe Center café.
The same time period has seen Ferris shift its focus and reinvent its coffee program.
As Ferris nears its 93rdyear in operation, the company will open its second café with a goal to cater to customers in the Central Business District rather than the large student population it currently serves near Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus.
The Pearl Street location is likely to see more to-go orders and will transition to serving draft beer in the evenings — using a system that can also be used for coffee products — pending approvals of a license to serve beer and wine, he said.
“The West Side location, we have big tables for students and off-street parking,” VanTongeren said. “Downtown, it’s more of an urban metropolitan feel with more intimate spots for one or two people to meet.”
Back on the West Side, The Rowers Club is also expected to be vastly different from Rowster’s original café on Wealthy Street.
Curtis said the location will expect more students, being a part of the Fulton Place project — an apartment development targeting GVSU students — and will offer batch-brewed coffees and a light food menu.
“We’ll have people stopping in on the way to class, and my sense is they’ll want something that’s a bit faster and mobile and sometimes something to snack on,” he said.
A second downtown Biggby Coffee location opened last week in Arena Place, proving large coffee chains aren’t slowing their growth either, as Starbucks continues to innovate and push its specialty coffee program further.
The “third-wave” Grand Rapids coffee shops — following store-bought coffees and national chains — know they aren’t going to replace those chains. And they don’t want to, recognizing the importance of those companies.
“I love the large companies like Starbucks,” Corlett said. “They’ve opened the door to us and get people to love coffee enough that they’ll come to try us. Then it’s our job to hook them in with service.”
Corlett said staff training and service are among the biggest challenges of small companies opening new retail locations.
The specialty coffee movement shows no signs of slowing down, VanTongeren said, as he believes the coffee industry is following several years behind the beer industry as sourcing of beans and the way the coffee is roasted and brewed evolves.
“People just don’t want to waste time and money on bad coffee after experiencing what it can and should be,” he said. “We have a lot of people in Grand Rapids and West Michigan who are particularly passionate about coffee, and we’ll continue to grow the market share in this space."