In March 2020, Espresso Royale Coffee closed its fourteen cafes in Ann Arbor and other Midwestern college towns during the first Covid-19 shutdown. That June, it announced that they would not reopen.
The closures left gaping holes in three of downtown’s busiest blocks: the 200 block of S. Main, State at North University, and South University at East University. Though it’s not yet official, a new cafe and roastery is in the works on State. And this month, the South U. location is being reopened by ERC veterans Lisa Tuveson and Ken Pargulski.
Immediately after the closure last year, Tuveson, the company’s vice president of operations, and Pargulski, Espresso Royale’s master roaster, quickly reopened ERC’s Whitmore Lake roastery as M-36 Coffee Roasters.
Now, Tuveson and Pargulski, who are married, are back in the cafe business. They plan to reopen the South U. l’ocation–which Tuveson originally opened for Espresso Royale–this month as M-36 Coffee.
“We knew tons of people from Espresso Royale who lost their jobs,” Tuveson says. “We said, ‘let’s reemploy people.’ We have a dream team going.”
Says Pargulski: “We like the Ann Arbor community, having been part of it for so long. It feels natural to come back.”
Operating a cafe wasn’t in the original plan for the pair, who have been picking up business for their roast coffees from area groceries such as Busch’s, Plum Market, and Arbor Farms. They sell under the M-36 label and also make some of Espresso Royale’s old blends.
They supply those beans to four cafes in Illinois that were purchased by a former manager and reopened as Espresso Royale Champaign-Urbana. The Ann Arbor cafe will serve their new M-36 blends exclusively.
With half a century of collective experience at Espresso Royale, running a coffee bar is second nature. “We don’t have to learn how to do it,” Tuveson says.
The menu will include standard drinks like brewed coffee, lattes, and cappuccino, plus house-made lemonade, and some new beverages that Tuveson is confident can compete with the variety at the boba cafes that have sprung up nearby.
There also will be baked goods–one of Pargulski’s specialties–salads, and other food items. He says they are developing a mobile app so customers can prepay, then pick up their orders.
While a Covid resurgence is always a concern, Pargulski says the past year has taught the pair how to respond. “We’ll do everything safely and keep things rolling if it comes back.”
Hours aren’t set, but Tuveson says to expect an early morning opening time, and hopefully the shop can operate in the evenings as well.
Both hope for a warm welcome from their neighbors. “For the first time in over a year, you’ll get to see someone in person and sit across from them,” Pargulski says.
M-36 Coffee, 1101 South University. Hours TBA. M36coffeeroasters.com