Espresso Royale Will Not Reopen
A coffeehouse pioneer passes.
by Micheline Maynard
From the July, 2020 issue
For thirty-three years, Espresso Royale was a fixture in Ann Arbor and other Midwestern college towns.
Known for its handcrafted coffee drinks, roast coffees, and baked goods, the Ann Arbor-based company attracted generations of townies and students.
But the company closed all fourteen stores during the pandemic, and in June it announced that it would not reopen them. "We thank our wonderful baristas, café managers, bakers, and the entire Espresso Royale family for your excellent work," said a company statement.
CFO Jonathan Martin says the company's competitive advantage-prime locations on or near Big Ten campuses-became a liability when schools shut down and sent their students home. "The weekend of St. Patrick's Day, we watched our register receipts drop like a stone. By the end of the week we had nothing.
"We had 227 employees who expected to be paid, and were paid. But we had rent payments [due] the next week."
Martin says they "looked into getting additional capitalization, but in the summer the students are gone anyway. Would they return in September?"
They qualified for a PPP loan, but the spending deadline would have meant operating empty cafés. Instead, they decided to liquidate, turning the stores' equipment over to their landlords in exchange for being released from their leases.
Though the Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Madison stores appear to be gone for good, two locations in Champaign, Illinois, reopened for takeout in May, and former employees plan to resume roasting in Whitmore Lake as M36 Coffee Roasters.
The first local Espresso Royale café, located on State St., was cofounded by Marcus Goller and Charles Lawrence. Sportswriter Ian Casselberry, who now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, was a regular while a student at Eastern Michigan University.
"I spent so many hours there, mainly the State St. location, but others as well," he says. "Reading, studying, meeting friends to say hello and chat, dates, interviews, conversations after movies or readings at Borders, or just killing time."
Allen Leibowitz, the former managing partner of Zingerman's Coffee Company, now living near Houston, says Espresso Royale was a leader in the Ann Arbor coffee scene.
"They were probably the first shop in Ann Arbor to have single-outing pour-overs from whole bean that you could buy fresh from a display case," he recalls. "They were ahead of the curve."
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[Originally published in July, 2020.]
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