Sweetwaters on Liberty and at the UMMA
by Jan Schlain
From the July, 2014 issue
Elsewhere in the former Borders space, Sheila Li hopes to open her Sweetwaters franchise in time for the Art Fair. Li's husband, Roy Xu, owns the environmental company GreenBright, says Sweetwaters co-owner Lisa Bee, so the company's fifth location "will be LEED certified--using more environmentally friendly products, environmentally friendly processes." Being the first local LEED-certified coffee shop won't earn them any grants or tax breaks, Lisa says, but "they get a plaque."
A few blocks away, the University of Michigan Museum of Art gift shop is also now selling Sweetwaters coffee and tea. It's not a cafe, says Bee, but it's a start.
Years ago, under former director James Steward, UMMA solicited proposals for an on-premises restaurant. Sweetwaters lost that round, but nothing ever came of the idea. In 2010, under director Joe Rosa, there was a new call for proposals to operate a scaled-back coffee "kiosk." Bee says she and her husband, Wei, won that round, but "expenses and other things weren't quite right." The museum eventually settled on an even more frugal trial: selling Sweetwaters products from its own gift shop. So alongside wood and glass art items, visitors now find bottles of Sweetwaters ginger lemon tea and bags of Sweetwaters coffee, along with ready-to-serve airpots of brewed coffee and tea.
As an undergrad who majored in Asian Studies and spent a lot of time in Tappan Hall, Bee recalls being "in the museum a lot ... that was one of my favorite places." Now students can drink her coffee and tea on their own study breaks--and, she says, "the docents love it!" And the gift-shop presence may yet lead to something bigger. "The Commons, in the Frankel Family Wing, was always planned to be a cafe," emails UMMA deputy director Kathy Huss. "Over the summer we will sell Sweetwaters brewed coffee and tea and see if we should pursue a more expanded service--both at UMMA and with the UM. We would very much like to pursue that long-awaited amenity for our visitors."
[Originally published in July, 2014.]
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