Talk about the "trickle down theory."
For Melissa and Sean Kickbush, brewing a strong pot of joe has become more than a morning routine: it's become a career, and now their success is creating a bit of a local economic wave.
The couple opened Brew on Front Street in downtown Traverse City in 2011, enamored with the idea of owning a “small-town coffee shop where we'd be working behind the counter, maybe chatting with a handful of customers at a time,” as Melissa puts it.
But Brew, which serves beer and wine as well as food, exploded its first week in business – and hasn't slowed down. In a year-and-a-half, the Kickbushes have expanded from nine to 22 employees, attracted an average of 1,000 customers a day and enlisted a legion of local vendors and partners to keep up with the shop's growth.
In the process, the couple cultivated the kind of magnetic environment planning experts refer to as a “third place” – a location people spend extensive periods of time at outside of their homes and workplaces. And they built a culture in which creative connections, business relationships and community networks could flourish.
Accordingly, it's not just the Kickbushes who are prospering from Brew's success.
Consider Higher Grounds Trading Co. The organic coffee bar located in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons might normally view a business like Brew as competition. Instead, Higher Grounds sells the shop some 600 pounds of java each month. Light of Day Organic Farm & Tea Shop supplies tea to Brew, and Northwoods Soda covers soft drinks. A litany of Michigan breweries and wineries are featured on the company's menu.
Local food vendors also share a piece of the pie. Nic and Jen Welty of 9 Bean Rows deliver homemade quiches, croissants and brioches to the coffee shop six days a week, bringing in an estimated $300 weekly wholesale. Bay Bread delivers freshly baked scones, muffins, cinnamon rolls and biscotti to Brew on a daily basis.
Other partnerships have come about in an even more organic fashion: from someone simply being at the shop. One Brew regular, Neal Steeno, struck up a friendship with Melissa and Sean. Not long after, he found himself in charge of the company's graphic design needs. A staff member who'd been at Brew since it opened, Chase Hunt, hung a few of his pieces of artwork on the wall; he later sold four of them to customers for $800.
“Our employees and customers are like family to us,” Sean explains. “We tend to gravitate toward creative and entrepreneurial spirits, and vice versa. They support us, so we try to give back to them."
That symbiotic relationship is on display most days you walk into Brew. On a recent weekday, Traverse City real estate agent Tom Krause sat hunched over a laptop, working on a potential deal as he sipped coffee. Nearby, Porterhouse Productions owner Sam Porter pitched an idea for a new event to a business associate. Three tables down, a female teenager sketched intensely in a drawing book, briefly looking up to order another latte.
For the Kickbushes, nurturing this kind of interactive environment – where diverse segments of the community connect and co-mingle with often sometimes unexpected results – has become a driving motivation for their business.
“I like to inspire ideas,” says Sean. “I want to offer a place where people feel comfortable, relaxed and creative. We're all collaborating together...that's what makes this place so unique.”