As news has spread that Coldwater-based Blue Hat Coffee & Gallery plans to open a second location in downtown Farmington – inside the historic Masonic Lodge, at Grand River and Farmington Rd. – locals have been jones-ing for more information.
So let’s start with the first thing everyone wants to know: when will Blue Hat open its doors?
“I’m assuming we’ll not get into the building until June 1st,” said Phillip Jewell, a retired software engineer who’s now Blue Hat’s COO. (Jewell’s wife Catherine, a former opera singer, is BH’s owner and CEO.) “We’re scheduled for a four-month build-out, so that would probably take us to the beginning of October, unless we can cut the buildout back. There’s not a ton of work to do, but we need to make changes to the serving area and the kitchen; we need to put in ADA-compliant bathrooms, and we need to put the deck in, which will be an elevated deck with 24x24 porcelain tiles.”
While this work is being done, locals will be able to try Blue Hat’s wares this summer at the Farmington Farmers Market.
“Our coffee is different from a lot of other roasters,” said Jewell. “ … Industry standards tend to result in coffee that’s more acidic, while our coffee is more smooth.”
Does Blue Hat offer more than coffee roasted on the premises? You bet. Food made in-house – including sandwiches, soups, and pastries (their pies get some serious Yelp-love) – will be on the menu, and Blue Hat’s Farmington location will also have a liquor license.
“We’ve ended up, in (Coldwater), doing some catered dinners, for example, where we have dinner for 15 to 20 people,” said Jewell. “But that’s been one of the challenges for us in the past. Without a liquor license, it’s been difficult to book larger parties. And with a license, we could also create a nice brunch with quiches and maybe five or six different items at noon on Sundays, and offer an alcoholic beverage, too. So it’s a good fit, in that it lets us expand our menu, and because coffee demand dies at a certain time each day. This way, in the evening, we could continue to operate.”
Jewell and his wife once lived in New York City for five years, during which time the couple got more and more passionate about coffee.
“One of the beauties of living in New York is there’s tons of great coffee that’s available,” said Jewell. “ … We moved back to the Detroit area, and at first, we thought, ‘Oh, what do we do now?’’
One of the things the Jewells eventually did was move into the nationally registered historic building in Coldwater where Jewell grew up. The couple spent a few years renovating the Abram C. Fisk house, which was originally built in the 1840s and opened the original Blue Hat Coffee & Gallery on the house’s main floor in 2011.
The house’s long history ties into the coffee company’s name. “The owner, Abram Fisk, raised trotting horses in the 1800s,” said Jewell. “During the Civil War, Branch County [where Coldwater is located] donated more horses to Union forces than any other in the country, and a lot of those horses came from this farm. So the name comes from a Union officer’s blue hat.”
Blue Hat’s historic first home also played a role in the company putting down roots in Farmington. Jewell and his wife had begun their search for a second location by looking at properties in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.
“We were looking specifically for a historic building,” said Jewell. “Most of the properties we looked at didn’t fit. … We were looking for something to match what we already have. … (Dan Blugerman) showed us the Masonic Lodge and we thought, ‘Oh, this is perfect.’”
With a second Blue Hat location, the Jewells aim to grow Blue Hat’s reach. “We sell a lot of wholesale products,” said Jewell. “In addition to coffee, we produce our own syrups – like vanilla and hazelnut – and we’ve been selling our products to other coffee houses and businesses. So we want to increase our visibility as a brand and expand into other markets.”
Plus, with art on display (and for sale) in various media – hence the “gallery” part of its name – Blue Hat in Farmington will offer locals lots of good reasons to step inside a local historic building that few of us now ever visit.
“One of the reasons we did this business here (in Coldwater) is that this national historic building has always been a home, but this gorgeous building hadn’t been available to the public before,” said Jewell. “We want to make these buildings more available to the public and show off their beauty.”