Coffee shop owner's high energy adds to downtown renaissance

The Raven Cafe opened more than a decade ago and is now a well-known destination in Port Huron with an owner deeply involved in his community.
It's a sunny Sunday morning in late summer and downtown Port Huron is quiet, except for one spot on Military and Pine streets -- the Raven Cafe, which has been abuzz with activity since 9 a.m.

Outside, serious cyclists in their spandex gear sit under a patio umbrella and guzzle espresso. A young couple watch a forklift move boats around the marina while sharing a pastry. Inside, in the front window, there’s an older couple chatting quietly and enjoying iced tea, soup, and sandwiches. At the bar, an out-of-towner sips a Spearmint Snuggler (an adult espresso drink) and reads the paper. Upstairs, students just back to college at SC4 grouse about homework and drink coffee rather than study. It’s an eclectic blend of people, a mix you wouldn’t expect to see anywhere else. Everyone fits in here, regardless of demographic.

It’s a big part of the cafe’s appeal -- and it’s entirely by design -- by owner Sadaat Hossain. Hossain, General Manager Alyssa Dauphinais, and a small staff of baristas, cooks and servers keep the energy level up and the atmosphere interesting -- even without Hossain's signature eight-shots-of-espresso in hand. Hossain, 33, is a dynamo, barely able to sit still, and the obvious heart and soul of the Raven. His wife, Jody Parmann’s influence is also felt and seen, including her updated Raven logo on the coffee mugs.

The Raven began more than a decade ago as the passion project of local attorney, Gerald Edson. It's now one of the best-known destinations in downtown Port Huron and part of what is looking like a downtown renaissance, though Hossain humbly denies it. Port Huron Mayor Pro-Tem Sherry Archibald places the credit for the Raven’s success, and the broader improvements downtown, with Hossain.

“While Sadaat may not have been the initial owner of the Raven Cafe, it’s his passion and commitment to the cafe, downtown, and the community that led him to purchase the business when it became available,” she says. “The Raven Cafe is a unique jewel in our downtown and Sadaat is truly an asset to this community.”

Archibald isn’t alone in her praise. Port Huron council members Alphonso Amos and Alan Lewandowski agree. Lewandowski notes his visits to the cafe are always interesting and he’s impressed with Hossain’s investment in the community.
“He stepped up and he’s inspired other young entrepreneurs to invest in our downtown, too,” he says.

Council member Amos says, “Sadaat and his restaurant have played a huge role in the revitalization of downtown Port Huron.”

It may seem odd, but Hossain's education and background in sound engineering make him uniquely qualified to share in this revitalization. Hossain began his career in Detroit's well-loved and established hipster food scene, including long stints at Union Street and Cass Cafe while he was in college. In 2013, when The Raven's owner wanted to sell, Hossain was able to secure private investors and has made the cafe his own, intuitively knowing that the shop's success was tied to the revival of the downtown as a whole.

In his own words, Hossain and his crew share the same "pass it on" philosophy, which is why they're so involved in the local community. Aside from donating to local fundraisers and charities, and helping grow the town, he's deeply involved in many of the Blue Water area's influential arts and business groups and events, including the Blue Water Folk Association, Blue Water Social Club, Thumbfest, Stash Bash, Paddle and Pour and the BlueChiliGrass Festival.

Entrepreneur Matt Brooks, founder of a new collaborative project, Blue Water Startups, attests to Hossain's boundless energy. "The Raven Cafe's fairly recent change of ownership has been a positive development," he says. "Sadaat is a young, energetic force of nature who breathed new life not only into the Raven, but also into our downtown. An active musician himself, Sadaat's involvement with the local music scene gives him added perspective and pull with that community as well."

Stepping it up from Bud Light

Hossain is also passionate about The Raven's beer selection and the breweries they represent.
"We want to offer people something maybe they don't know about," he says. "There's so much more to experience than Bud Light." That's why all of the taps at The Raven pour craft beer from Short’s Brewing Company, Gonzo's Biggdogg Brewing Company, Founders Brewing Company, Bell’s Brewery, and other Michigan breweries.  

Who wants a burger?

Hossain is also an avid foodie, along with many of his staff, who longingly joke about the day they might have a “real” kitchen. They don’t have a fryer, he admits, though the menu choices make the kitchen seem real enough. Without a burger or fries to offer, Hossain recommends, instead, the House of Usher sandwich, with turkey breast, bacon, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, cranberry sauce and mayo. Who on earth would rather have a mere run-of-the-mill burger, he asks? To drink, there’s Hossain’s own favorite -- eight shots of espresso in one cup, or, if that’s too much caffeine, Gonzo’s Brewing vanilla porter with a shot of espresso for an extra kick.

The rest of the menu has a little something for everyone, from soup aficionados to craft brew lovers. There are even gluten-free options from Lefty’s Lunchbox, a local bakery specializing in gluten-free baked goods.

Hossain downs the last of his espresso and begins making another, without breaking his chatter with the customer at the counter from Texas and the young couple waiting for their caffeine fix. This Sunday morning vignette seems to summarize the appeal of The Raven in general -- no matter who you are, where you’re from, or where you’re heading, this unique cafe is the place for you.
 
The Raven Cafe is located at 932 Military Street in downtown Port Huron; open Monday through Wednesday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information on the menu, charitable donations, or upcoming events, follow Raven Cafe on Facebook at facebook.com/RavenCafe or call at (810) 984-4330.

 
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