Meet the entrepreneurs who are about to turn Farmington into a coffee destination

Come fall, downtown Farmington will go from having zero independent coffee shops to three independent coffee shops, transforming downtown into a coffee destination, where visitors to the northwest suburb can reliably find a cup of good, locally-roasted coffee. And while the purveyors of the soon-to-open cafés — Apothecary, Blue Hat, and Ground Control — could view each other as competitors, the entrepreneurs behind the businesses have a refreshing take on their like-minded neighbors: Three coffee shops opening within months of each other isn’t a threat to one’s own business, but an opportunity.

With three cafés opening, each with their own style, offerings, and big-picture plans, these entrepreneurs have the chance to not only create their own coffee shops, but their own coffee district, a place that is all the more likely to draw coffee enthusiasts from throughout the region.

Miguel Williams, owner-operator of Apothecary Coffee & Espresso.
“A personal hobby of mine is to go to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and plan out my little coffee route of all the shops I want to hit up. And then along the way, you stop at the different shops, you look in different store windows, and you can make an afternoon out of it. I can't tell you how excited I am to be able to do that in our downtown,” says Miguel Williams, owner-operator of Apothecary Espresso & Coffee.

I think I mentioned in our previous interview that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that feeling couldn’t be any stronger than it is right now. It's so exciting to see our own coffee culture building in the community — because how many good things follow a cup of coffee, right? How many good things come after a morning conversation over some coffee? It is so, so cool that we're going to be getting that in our downtown. And especially with the people that are behind it all.”

Ready for launch (…almost)

Brandon Sharp has been roasting coffee beans from his Farmington home for the past several years, perfecting a craft that started as a hobby but is now the basis for Ground Control Coffee Roasters, a coffee company set to open in downtown Farmington later this summer. Trent Chapman and James McLaughlan round out the entrepreneurial team opening Ground Control, and they, too, have connections to the city. Chapman also grew up here, and McLaughlan is now a resident; McLaughlan also owns Five Lakes CrossFit in nearby Farmington Hills.

Ground Control Coffee Roasters is located at 33319 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington.Like Miguel Williams, McLaughlan says that he and Sharp would also plan trips to other cities and organize them around visiting and discovering the best third wave coffee shops that places like Ann Arbor, Chicago, and Detroit had to offer; a sort of coffee shop tourism that they hope to develop in Farmington. They had been kicking around the idea of opening their own coffee roastery as far back as 2016. It was when Chapman joined the team — the missing link, McLaughlan says — that Ground Control really started to take off. Each brings their own skill set; Sharp and his talent for roasting coffee, McLaughlan and his entrepreneurial experience, and Chapman, a culinary school-trained chef who managed and opened several Starbucks locations, bringing the day-to-day operational know-how.

“I think we bring a lot of industry experience as well as kind of an obsessive team as far as research and development goes — the fact that we're roasting our own coffee, the fact that we're all pretty obsessed with learning about specialty coffee and tasting different coffees, different processing, different roast profiles; all this stuff,” McLaughlan says. “I think that makes for an extra level of care in the cup, from having our hands in more phases of production.”

What they’re building is Ground Control, a specialty coffee shop and coffee roaster that offers the quality coffee and espresso-based drinks you might expect, but also some creative twists, too. They have their own nitro cold brew coffee, which can be ordered on its own but they also use it to make things like the Cafe Paloma, a coffee mocktail. There’s also the espresso tonic. Baked goods will be provided by Cannelle Pastries.

The owners of Ground Control Coffee Roasters serving coffee at the Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market (L to R): Trent Chapman, Brandon Sharp, and James McLaughlan. (Photo courtesy of Andréa Lima)The Cafe Paloma is already a big hit at the Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market, McLaughlan says. With three downtown coffee shops set to open this year, the farmers market has been doing their part to introduce each to the community, with Apothecary, Blue Hat, and Ground Control rotating vendor duties each Saturday. It’s the type of community effort that will go a long way in establishing each of the shops downtown, and not as competitors, but as neighbors.

“I was actually just talking to Miguel (Williams) the last time I was at the market. And what I said to him was that there are really only four or five companies that make up 85 percent of green coffee purchasing in the United States. And what we're trying to do, as part of the other 15 percent, is increase that share of 15 percent; let’s make the 15 percent bigger. I don't want to fight over the 15 percent — let’s see if we can break into the 85 percent. That’s the type of discussions we have (with each other),” McLaughlin says of the other coffee shops about to open.

“It’s one of the things that’s encouraging about how the coffee scene is developing here. There's quite a bit of room for all of us to grow.”

A coffee hub percolates

Apothecary Coffee & Espresso is a true family affair, with each of the five Williams brothers, and their parents, helping to build out the café. It is, however, Miguel Williams’s baby. As owner-operator, Miguel has been working to open his dream coffee shop for well over a year now; he hoped to have it open last summer, but supply chain issues have delayed the build-out, a familiar story for each of the coffee shops featured here. But now they’re close — really close. Miguel hopes to operate under a soft-opening within the next couple of weeks.

The Williams brothers (L to R): Francisco, Christopher, Joe, Miguel, and Blaise.
On his coffee trips to other cities, Miguel decided on Ann Arbor’s Stovetop Coffee Roasters to supply the coffee for Apothecary. Though he’s not ready to say where they’ll be getting their pastries from, he can say that the majority of their baked goods will be tree nut- and gluten-free.

While bringing quality, locally-roasted coffee to downtown Farmington is a clear motivating factor for Miguel, he’s also driven by the desire to create a home away from home for people, to get away from the “turn-and-burn” model of quickly rotating customers in and out of the store and provide a place where people feel comfortable spending a few hours of their day. Farmington’s young people, he says, are especially craving a place that offers programming and Miguel plans on delivering that, with comedy, poetry, and music events all planned.

Williams wants Apothecary to become a community center as much a coffee shop, with comedy, poetry, music, and more.
“We very much want our space to be more of a community center, a place where you can bring friends from out of town and spend some time, or have some business meetings, or even, just in the evening, spend some time before you go out for your night out in downtown Farmington,” he says.

Apothecary Coffee & Espresso is located at 23366 Farmington Rd. in downtown Farmington.That Miguel Williams wants to integrate Apothecary into the larger downtown Farmington ecosystem should come as no surprise. In 2021, he became the youngest member of the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board of Directors at the age of 23. His parents both own businesses here. In fact, Apothecary is going into the space of his mother’s old Tre Sorelle boutique, and Apothecary has carved out a room for Tre Sorelle to open back up and within the shop itself.

Miguel says he’s excited for the other coffee shops to open, too, and that they only stand to benefit one another. He’s already dreaming up collaborations to pursue. His ideas were given off the record, but they’re exciting ones, to be sure.

Apothecary will operate under a soft-opening — and soon.
“I think this is everyone's dream with what’s happening right now. I think downtown Farmington is becoming a hub for coffee. Think of coffee and all the good things that happen because of it. I don’t think anybody can be mad about that,” he says.

“It's cause for so much excitement here. The other guys, they've been killing it at the farmers market. And we've been talking about future collaborations. We can work together here. It's very much a collaborative relationship to build the future.”

Room to grow

Phillip Jewell has been working on building out his Blue Hat Coffee space since he first got the keys to the place in November 2019. But renovating and building out historic buildings take time, and the Farmington Masonic Temple, which was built in 1876, is as historic as it gets around these parts. The COVID-19 pandemic and its related supply chain issues and workforce shortages certainly haven’t helped in getting Blue Hat ready to open, either.

Blue Hat Coffee is located at 23715 Farmington Rd. in downtown Farmington.For Jewell, the time it’s taken to build out his Masonic Temple space has been well worth it, and especially now that he’s nearing its completion. Jewell expects Blue Hat Coffee to open sometime this September. He’s currently putting the finishing touches on the interior, and then comes an outdoor patio, which will be big enough for six to eight tables, he says.

“With historical buildings, there's always surprises,” Jewell says, including the 100-year-old tax receipts he found stuffed in the walls. He gifted the majority of them to the still-active Masonic Lodge upstairs, and kept three to frame and hang in the coffee shop.

“You just kind of go through things and go, Oh, that's interesting. Oh, okay, we're gonna have to do this. We went through the standard things you expect to find in historic buildings and then had to make some changes that you didn't expect. But that's pretty normal for an old building, because in most cases, they've been changed over time, and you find things that you're not expecting. But the majority of it is just spending the time it takes to make sure the things you're doing are done properly.”

Phillip Jewell, Chief Operating Officer of Blue Hat Coffee.
Unlike Apothecary and Ground Control, Blue Hat Coffee is an established business, operating as a café in Coldwater from 2014 until the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. He plans to keep his coffee roasting operation in Coldwater while running the café in Farmington. Another difference is that Blue Hat will operate as much as a restaurant as it will a coffee shop, with homemade breads and specialty sandwiches on the menu. There’s even the possibility of a liquor license in their future.

Jewell has been working on Blue Hat since late 2019.
While Apothecary and Ground Control have gotten going in the time since he started working on Blue Hat, he’s not concerned. Jewell believes that Farmington is ready for all three.

“I think there's plenty of room for growth in the coffee area here,” he says. “And you know, we're going to be more of a restaurant once we get going, more so than a coffee house. But we’ll still feature our coffee because we've gotten really good at it.”
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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.