In the depths of a decade-long Michigan recession, a Sturgis company called Great Lakes Chocolate & Coffee managed not only to find the key to a successful coffee shop but to parlay it into four locations scattered across Michigan and Wisconsin. And now, company founders Paul and Jared Smith have found the holy grail of the business world, the self-replicating business. The Ann Arbor GLCC is now a franchise.

It was an inside job. Christine Jeffries, who bought the shop several months ago, grew up in Sturgis and started working for the flagship GLCC store there as a teenager in 2004. She worked her way up to manager of the Ann Arbor store, and several months ago she bought it. (The original Sturgis store and the Kimberly, Wisconsin, store are also now franchises, leaving only the Lansing store company-owned.)

Twenty-five-year-old Jeffries, whose only break from being a GLCC employee since she reached voting age was a six-month stint in Taiwan teaching English, says proudly: “I didn’t go to college. My experiences working here are as good or better than college.” Of her staff of seven, she says: “They are all amazing. I trust them to run the place when I’m not here.”

GLCC has a bifurcated purpose, devoting half its name and half its display cases to the kind of pretty, premium chocolate confections more associated with mom, sweethearts, and major holidays than with immediate gratification. That explains the most recent product line on display: greeting cards from Detroit company Avanti. Says Jeffries, “We realized a lot of people buy chocolates as gifts, so this makes it a one-stop shop.”

GLCC also now carries artisanally made Sprecher soda, a Wisconsin product, in cola, cherry cola, cream soda, root beer, and orange flavors. “It’s fire brewed,” she says. What, exactly, is fire brewing, and why is it better? “That’s a good question!” says the ever-smiling Jeffries, and one to which she does not have an answer, but whatever it is, she’s sure that Pepsi and Coke aren’t.

While GLCC’s proximity to the I-94 exit on Jackson might suggest it’s a quick stop for commuters, it’s also very much a Lakewood neighborhood hangout, as the requisite regulars with their computers attest. Jeffries is even planning to add a music night soon.

Great Lakes Chocolate & Coffee Co., 2891 Jackson Ave. 302-2450. Mon.-Fri. 6:30 a.m-8 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-8 p.m.