A year and a half ago, with white-knuckle bravado, David Myers called his postage-stamp-sized Mighty Good Coffee Cafe “a very expensive marketing experiment.” He had just opened the small espresso bar on Main Street to showcase coffee from his Mighty Good roastery and was gambling heavily that in a recession people would pony up real money rather than just kind words for a fresh, locally produced quality product.
“It’s a little odd to call coffee a local product, because of course we’re not growing coffee in Michigan,” Myers acknowledges, but broadly speaking, like locally made chocolates or baked goods, his coffee is locally produced. And, he says, the “locally produced” trend overlaps with another parallel trend: the local demand for “high-end specialty food.”
Myers’ bet seems to have paid off: he’s just moved two blocks north, into the former Peartree furniture store, across from the county administration building. While still small compared to Sweetwaters or Starbucks, the new space has a counter with stools and half a dozen tables. And though the mission is still to showcase the coffee, not run a restaurant, it is now possible to assemble a small meal there that doesn’t even include coffee. In addition to Pastry Peddler and Decadent Delight cookies and brownies, Mighty Good sells some juices, some tea, and a small selection of sandwiches and salads from revive + replenish: “brought in fresh everyday around ten thirty. Nothing has been sitting overnight,” he carefully points out.
Myers has been surprised at the difference two blocks makes. “I feel like my shop is part of a community now,” he says. The location pulls in courthouse traffic on the weekdays, and strolling crowds from the Farmers’ Market and Kerrytown on the weekends. “Lots of mornings I get an omelet to go from Carol [Hopp] at the Broken Egg,” and he rotates among Sabor Latino, Sheesh, and the Heidelberg for lunch, all on the same block.
Some of Myers’ amazement could come from the fact that–unlike a lot of his clientele–he isn’t used to spending his days in a downtown coffeeshop. Myers’ job is coffee roasting, and the roastery itself is now on-site rather than in a barn near the Huron River. The back two thirds of the 2,200-square-foot space has been de-gentrified from the high-bourgeois ambiance of the Peartree to something closer to an urban pioneer warehouse: burlap bags of coffee, the roaster, and not much else sit on a concrete floor. A huge silver snake of a ventilation system loops around the open ceiling.
While Myers sells a few blends (his newest is a light roast called “Smokin’ Joe”), he prefers single varieties from small producers. “Our philosophy is you roast each single-origin coffee to the way it should be roasted, and to our taste. For instance, I’ve tasted our same Colombians roasted extremely dark, and that doesn’t make sense to me.” Ann Arbor taste in coffee, he says, has grown subtler and more sophisticated: “We’re not trying to roast the deep dark roasts that were popular on the West Coast ten years ago.”
As the business matures, Myers is investing in his employees. His assistant Nicholas Handran will be making a November buying trip to Costa Rica. Another employee, Angela, will be spending four days at Camp Pull-A-Shot near Los Angeles in late October–and it really is a camp for baristas, not just a tongue-in-cheek name for a seminar in a hotel conference room. “They pitch their own tents,” Myers says.
Mighty Good Coffee Cafe, 217 N. Main, 222-4514. Mon.-Sat. 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. mightygoodcoffee.com