When Aldea Coffee opens its doors to the public at 7am this Friday, Oct. 18 at 794 Pine St., it will be a debut years in the making—the newest chapter in a book that winds its way from Honduras to West Michigan, from the Muskegon Farmers Market a decade ago to today’s ever-growing downtown.
It is a debut that is as much about the people Aldea’s owners and employees hope will fill the space as it is about the coffee itself—or, really, it’s more about this community than the coffee, the Aldea team explains. Not that the coffee isn’t important—through a nonprofit, Aldea Development, Aldea has built long-standing relationships and business partnerships with coffee farmers in Honduras in order to bring their coffee to West Michigan.
But, again, those relationships are really about people: everyone who works at Aldea know the farmers by name; they know their families—they can tell you where the farmers’ children are going to school (including at Hope College in Holland); they have spent time on their farms; they have portraits of the farmers they work with hung up in their cafe in Grand Haven, their roastery in Muskegon Heights, and now their new space in downtown Muskegon.
Just as they’ve built these relationships with the farmers, they want to see the same kind of community happen in their Muskegon cafe nestled in a century-old building that was once home to Al Perri Furniture: one filled with connection and respect, with joy and a desire to learn about each other’s worlds. They hope to see this historic space brimming with poets and artists, writers and students, business owners and factory workers and civic activists and musicians—and, well, everyone. They want to see their neighbors—whether you want to buy something or not, whether you want to grab a cup of coffee and hunker down over work for hours, whether you just want to stop in, say hello and not purchase anything.
“That’s when I know we’re successful is when someone comes in and says, ‘I just wanted to come in and say hi,’” said Andrew Boyd, who co-owns Aldea Coffee with Jeremy Miller.
Miller also emphasized this point.
“You’ll never be rushed if you want to walk in and get a cup of water for free and sit here for half an hour in the morning,” he said. “It’s not transactional, the interaction between the customers. It’s a relationship we try to foster. It’s more enjoyable for us to see people in the space, to see that community grow.”
For Boyd, Miller and their full-time staff—including Brittany Goode, Elly Bollweg, Daniel Bollweg, Angie Stone, Anna Prince, and Josh Manzer—Friday’s opening is a story rooted in the launch of their nonprofit in 2009. A development organization that works to empower the farmers and families of La Unión, Lempira, Honduras through microloans, market access, community partnership projects, and more, Aldea (which means “community” in Spanish) partners with Honduran farmers to bring their coffee to West Michigan. Aldea purchases all of the farmers’ coffee at above-fair trade prices.
Not long after the nonprofit began, the folks at Aldea started selling their coffee at the Muskegon Farmers Market—which allowed them to eventually open their first brick-and-mortar shop at the century-old armory building in Grand Haven in 2015. Then, about two years ago, they began roasting all of their coffee in Muskegon Heights. They recently moved their production to a facility located at 2709 Peck St. in Muskegon Heights—where they plan to open another cafe in the future. Over the past two years, they’ve roasted 35,000 pounds of coffee, which has gone to their cafe in Grand Haven, as well as wholesale clients—including Toast ‘n Jams in Norton Shores, which goes through some 200 pounds of Aldea coffee every month.
Through all of this growth, Aldea’s owners and employees knew they wanted to open a brick-and-mortar location in Muskegon—a city where Boyd grew up and where his father worked at the Sappi paper mill in the Lakeside neighborhood, where Elly Bollweg spent much of her childhood (her parents own Re-Source Industries in Muskegon), and where Elly and her husband, Daniel Bollweg, now live.
“It was always in the plan for us to open a cafe in Muskegon, and we looked for the right space for over two years in the downtown area,” Miller said. “We walked through a lot of buildings here. There are so many cool spaces; we just needed to find the one that was the right fit. When this building came along, we could envision ourselves there right away.”
Bringing people together: A space for Muskegon
Located on the first floor of the NorthTown 794 development, the Aldea cafe in Muskegon is filled with the city’s history—including furniture that the business’s staff built themselves using refurbished Brunswick bowling alley wood. Additionally, the wood blocks you’ll see in the cafe are from the now-demolished Sappi paper mill.
“My dad worked at the paper mill, so it was really cool to tell him the blocks are from there,” Boyd said.
Boyd and Elly Bollweg designed the cafe’s interior, which includes a 12-person community table, four four-person tables, eight two-person tables, 15 bar stools, and seating areas on couches and pillows. Throughout the cafe, there are books (everything from “A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business” to Homer’s “The Odyssey”), board games, coloring books for children and adults, tomes on travel, coloring pencils and sketch pads, plants, and even shawls if customers get chilly.
“Andrew and I designed the look, the aesthetic and the comfiness of the space with a lot of purpose,” Elly Bollweg said. “We spent a lot of hours figuring out how it would be most inviting and practical and comfortable. We drew a lot of inspiration from coffee shops we’ve been to all over the world.”
From visits to coffee shops in such cities as London, Paris, Mexico City, and Berlin, as well as operating their cafe in Grand Haven, the folks at Aldea knew they wanted their employees and their customers to be inhabiting the same physical space in Muskegon: they want a place with no barriers.
“It’s made so customers can be involved in the process of what’s happening behind the bar and be really engaged with the staff,” Boyd said, with Elly Bollweg noting that everyone from the baristas to the dishwasher will be able to converse with the customers; no walls will separate anyone.
“We want to create a place that’s inviting and warm and comfortable so once people are in here they don’t want to leave,” Boyd said.
It’s this openness that has played a large part in the relationships that Aldea’s staff has seen form at their Grand Haven location—and which they hope to see happen in Muskegon.
“When we first started, we had a group of regulars and everyone would take their spots,” Boyd said of the Grand Haven cafe. “Then you saw people start to talk to each other. That’s led to friendships, bands being formed, people doing more stuff in the community, art shows happening, sewing clubs.”
Aldea’s staff has no doubt those types of relationships will happen in Muskegon—and they noted they’ll be able to offer other events as well, from Dungeons and Dragons game nights to movie screenings.
The Muskegon space “gives us the opportunity to hold some of our own activities; it will be really nice to hold movie nights,” Goode said. “We’ve done composting workshops, and now we’ll be able to host these events in Muskegon.”
Outside, there’s a garden where people can drink coffee and watch outdoor movies; there too will be an herb and flower garden—and plenty of space for dogs to join their latte-sipping owners.
As for the menu, the Muskegon location will offer espresso drinks, pour-overs, specialty organic teas (they work with farmers in the Himalayas to source their teas), cold brews, homemade syrups for their drinks, hot cocoa, lemonade, baked goods they make at their Muskegon Heights facility, and more. They’ll be offering the same fall specials as in Grand Haven, including a spicy chai and a spiced maple latte with nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom.
“It’s a menu that’s been created over four years of operation at the armory,” Miller said.
Aldea’s Angie Stone and Anna Prince do the baking for Aldea at their Muskegon Heights location, and the Muskegon venue will offer such items as muffins, biscotti, and vegan and gluten-free options.
“We try to source within the community as much as possible, so we use farmers markets and organic when it’s available,” Stone said.
As they prepare for Friday’s debut, Prince said she’s been dreaming of the connections that will happen over their baked goods.
“I love bringing people together around food because that’s where great conversation happens,” she said while making apple muffins at their Peck Street production facility.
Collaboration and community support
Five years ago, before they opened their cafe in Grand Haven, Aldea’s owners discussed the possibility of moving to Detroit—but, ultimately, decided against it.
“The deciding factor came down to the support we have in West Michigan; we have people who are there for us,” Miller said.
That backing, the owners emphasized, has been crucial as they worked to open a cafe in Muskegon. In fact, Boyd said that without the support they received from the city government, as well as from the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, tomorrow’s debut would likely not be happening.
“The amount of support we’ve gotten to undertake a project like this has been incredible,” Miller said.
“And it really meant the chance to do the project or not,” Boyd added and noted they met businessman John Essex, who owns the NorthTown 794 building, because of their positive relationship with city government.
As they grow in Muskegon, that collaboration will continue—and expand, with Aldea’s team hoping to do everything from partner with area businesses to do commercial recycling to working with area residents on everything from poetry readings to game nights. And, speaking of commercial recycling, being environmentally conscious has been a huge part of Aldea’s mission and will continue to be in Muskegon. They’ve done beach cleanups at Pere Marquette and in downtown Muskegon, their cups are compostable (and customers are welcome to bring their own cups into the cafe as well), they compost all of their coffee grounds and cold brew waste—here, they’ll be working with McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm to compost, and they provide trainings and other events to educate employees, customers and the general public about zero-waste living.
It’s this kind collaboration—with customers, with other businesses, with the city, with community building and the environment in mind—that’s deeply exciting for Aldea, the staff said. After all, it means they get to do what they’ve always loved: sit down with new friends and raise a cup of coffee made from beans grown by people they’ve come to know and love.
“We’re excited to have people come and share their lives with us,” Miller said.
Aldea Coffee is located at 794 Pine St. in downtown Muskegon. Its hours of operations will be 7am to 6pm Monday through Friday, 8am to 6pm on Saturday, and 9am to 5pm on Sunday.