Lansing-based Blue Owl Coffee will open its second location in East Lansing by the end of February. It’s one of three new locations the company plans to open this year.
“Each store is meant to be a neighborhood anchor for people to meet and start conversations, begin writing their stories, begin their process,” said Blue Owl Coffee Co-Owner Nick Berry. “East Lansing specifically is meant to be a sanctuary away from campus. We thought, let’s have some fun, a little Peter Pan type of thing.”
Berry and Blue Owl Coffee’s other co-owners, Rich Whitman and Adam Klein, run Blue Owl Coffee’s REO Town shop while working to open new storefronts in East Lansing, Grand Rapids and Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood.
The East Lansing location — double the size of Blue Owl Coffee’s REO Town location — will open at 213 Ann St. in what used to be part of the sports bar FieldHouse.
It was originally set to open in December, but has taken longer than expected, Berry said.
“Honestly, this is our second time around and I think we’re realizing how much we didn’t know. Everyone said the second store was going to be the hardest to open, and they were right,” Berry said. “We’re getting messages at least twice a day with people asking, ‘Hey, when are you guys opening?’”
Blue Owl Coffee’s Old Town location will act as a roastery and a small shop at 1236 Turner Rd., where Bloom Coffee Roasters was once located. The Grand Rapids shop will be at 744 Leonard St. NW.
Berry said they’re aiming to have the Old Town and Grand Rapids locations open by the end of May.
“We really want to go places that need this type of environment,” Berry said. “When we found REO Town, it was kind of the perfect fit. It was right on the brink of becoming a neighborhood you could spend a day in, they just needed a place to land. That’s what we’re looking for when we go into the different cities. Is there something growing here, is there a neighborhood that wants to revitalize?”
Berry said it originally took him a while to buy into the idea of an East Lansing location. But in talking with students, he said he started to hear many Michigan State University students explain they didn’t know why they were in school or what they’d do with their degree after graduation.
“We all used to work at the Starbucks on Charles Street,” Berry said. “And Frappuccino Happy Hour kind of burned me out, so I had a really hard time wanting to go back into that. But I just didn’t have enough communication with what was actually happening.”
He hopes East Lansing’s Blue Owl Coffee location will be a place where students and the city’s residents can tackle personal projects and escape from the everyday.
“It took me a good month out of the summer before I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I see where we can fit into this,’” Berry said. “Because it’s a city that—it’s not lacking identity, it’s just developing it.”
Before going into any new community, the co-owners at Blue Owl Coffee talk to the city’s residents, Berry said. They’ll take the Blue Owl Coffee bike cart to the streets and ask people what they think their neighborhood needs.
For the East Lansing location, Berry said he talked to city officials, the mayor, lots of students, business owners and residents.
Blue Owl Coffee has its goals, Berry said, but none matter if the surrounding neighborhood doesn’t care.
“It’s about spending time in those different areas and figuring out who wants us there,” Berry said. “And that’s different than just going in and getting demographics and percentages. It’s literally going in and asking, ‘How do you guys want your city to grow and how can we help?’”
In talking with East Lansing’s students and residents, Berry said he heard there’s not enough space for people to talk and build ideas, so the new location will have a separated conference room that can be rented out.
The East Lansing shop will also feature a roll-up door meant to remove as many barriers as possible to the rest of the city, Berry said. It’s part of an aesthetic unlike Blue Owl Coffee’s REO Town location.
“It’s very much different,” Berry said. “We aim to build an aesthetic around the neighborhoods and the communities we go into. I think East Lansing will be the most drastic difference, but I think it will be exactly what we hope it will be for the community.”
Saginaw resident Greg Sztuczko, who works in Lansing, said he goes to coffee shops nearly every day and has tried coffee from Blue Owl Coffee’s bike cart. Sztuczko said he plans to go to Blue Owl Coffee’s East Lansing location once it opens.
“I like to go to different coffee shops. I try them all, give everybody a shot.” Berry said. “(I value) variety. For as often as I go, I don’t like to get the same thing every time.”
Sztuczko said he thinks investing in the community is worthwhile and would make the shop more comfortable and inviting.
“People would probably spend more time and money there,” Sztuczko said. “Especially on campus, where people could get out of their apartments and dorms and spend time with friends.”
Showcasing musicians, bands and artwork will remain a priority in the East Lansing location, Berry said.
Juman Almotawa, an international student from Kuwait and a dietetics sophomore at MSU, said she hadn’t heard of Blue Owl Coffee before, but she plans to go when it opens. Almotawa said she enjoys music and art in coffee shops.
“I feel like I come to Starbucks a lot,” Almotawa said. “I’m kind of bored. It’s about time we have new things over here.”
Blue Owl Coffee hopes to open in 10 different cities in 10 years. The main goal is to set up a touring circuit through the shops, where bands and artwork can rotate through. Berry said Blue Owl Coffee wants to do as much as it can to get creativity from the little cities out on the road.
“We’ve traveled all over Michigan,” Berry said. “We’ve been to Detroit, Grand Rapids, up north. We have a short list, but we don’t like to talk about it too much because we don’t want to get anyone too excited.”
First, Blue Owl Coffee has to focus on opening one location at a time, and there’s still work to do in East Lansing.
“The painters will be finished Thursday, the equipment will be installed and hooked up Friday, and then it’s clean up, finishing the floors, installing many of the unique features we’ve partnered with local artisans for,” Berry said. “All that stuff’s coming in hopefully next week. Then, it’s inspections and we have to pass them before we can open.”