Biggby Coffee expands its footprint in rural Michigan

Looking for a cup of coffee on Michigan’s rural roads can be a challenge.

The java choices are minimal – gas station, convenience store or a fast-food franchise (not necessarily known as a purveyor of quality coffee).

A coffee brand familiar to many Michiganders is changing that. Lansing-based Biggby Coffee is opening small drive-thrus – known as Biggby Coffee BCubed – in small towns across rural Michigan. In many cases, these are towns where you'd never find a national coffee chain. 

Biggby Coffee BCubed in Alpena.The new modular concept, unveiled in 2018, is popping up in communities like Kalkaska, Sturgis, Traverse City, Sawyer, Alpena, and Clare. New drive-thrus are planned for other communities as well.

Some of these “pop-up” like stores offer walk-up service as well; none of them offer the sit-down options of other traditional Biggby shops. They are 349 square feet, just enough room for a few employees and coffee operations.

The modulars are manufactured by BCubed Manufacturing, LLC., of Alpena, exclusively for Biggby. The structures come in three cubed sections with built-in plumbing and wiring, according to They are designed to be moveable and expandable and can easily be set up on small lots.

There are other advantages, as well. The BCubed shops adapt to many different site configurations and can be installed on an existing parking lot. The minimum lot is one-quarter acre. It's also a far less costly investment for franchisees.

As of now, there are about 40 Biggby Coffee BCubed locations in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

One of the company’s newest BCubed spots is in Traverse City, home to four Biggby stores owned by John and MaryAnne MacIntosh.

That BCubed store opened in December on South Airport Road. The couple, who live in Traverse City and are active in the community, opened their first BCubed shop on U.S. 31 the previous year. They also own two traditional Biggby stores.

This Biggby Coffee BCubed opened along a busy stretch in Traverse City last year.
The new Biggby concept appealed to the MacIntosh couple because of the store's small size, which means less overhead and less staffing. There's just enough room for necessary staff and coffee operations.

The pandemic’s impact on businesses – when nobody wanted to spend time indoors because of health concerns – piqued their interest in the concept. 

“It’s so much easier because nobody wanted to come in,” MaryAnne MacIntosh says. “It was just better to do the drive-thru and that’s what we’re finding. It’s so modular, you don’t need a lot of space to put it.” 

In Kalkaska, first-time Biggby owners, Andrew and Victoria Long, opened the town’s first drive-thru coffee spot last September. 

“There’s no wasted space, and with less wasted space, there’s less wasted steps for your baristas,” says Andrew Long, who has been a physician in Kalkaska since 2006. “At the end of a shift, (employees are) already walking 12,000 steps and if you can cut down on some of their unnecessary steps, then you have a more productive employee at the end of their shift.” 

The Kalkaska location is a win-win, he says, noting it’s the only drive-thru coffee shop in the village and the highway connects to other tourist destinations in northern Michigan, attracting steady traffic. 

“It really is a good spot. A lot of our traffic is the drive-thru and the mobile sector,” he says, noting the business is not pulling from spots where people may want to linger. "If you’re coming up from Grand Rapids on U.S. 131, it is the first coffee shop that you do not have to get off an exit to stop at.” 

Biggby strives to better the community, wherever the company plants a store. The franchises are individually owned, but there is a recurring theme throughout -- the franchises are encouraged to become involved with and give back to the community 

The BCubed models are a more affordable and accessible approach to franchise ownership, owners say. There also a win-win for any community because of the company's emphasis on local community and philanthropic values.

“We strive every day to push out a good product and we are involved in the community,” Long says. “We have made donations to the community and have responded to their requests. As a result, people like what we do and continue to support us.” 

Gayenell Gentelia, associate director of the Kalkaska Downtown Development Authority (DDA), says Biggby Coffee BCubed has been a welcome addition to the village and signifies growth.  

“Kalkaska DDA and the village, of course, have been doing many things in the past eight to 10 years to try to bring growth and uplift the community,” she says. “Having Biggby come to Kalkaska shows what we’ve been doing is working.” 

While there are two other locally owned restaurants with baristas, Biggby is the only franchise and drive-thru coffee shop in Kalkaska. 

“All of the feedback we’ve seen and heard on Facebook and in my meetings, people were excited that it was here,” she says. “People are utilizing it. Our office is just a couple blocks from Biggby. It’s pretty busy in the morning and definitely busy in the late afternoon. I’d say most people are pretty excited and happy that it’s here.”  

She is excited to see what a full summer season will look like for the new Biggby and the local economy. 

“We’re happy that Biggby is here, and we will do whatever we can to make sure they’re successful here in Kalkaska, but we don’t have any doubt that they won’t be,” she says. “It’s a very good addition to our community.” 

Sarah Ratledge is a Traverse City-based writer. She is a frequent contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange and UPword. She has also written for Issue Media Group’s Input Fort Wayne
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