How to Build a Roastery: Ishpeming Build Out Update Sep' 21

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Well, it's been a month of hustle followed by a couple months of waiting at our new space in downtown Ishpeming!  Paul and the crew have spent many long days putting in some hard work.  Remodeling a building with pieces dating back to 1884 has been nothing short of a challenge, but we're taking it in stride and feel like we've finally nailed down a full vision and plan for this expansive space.  Currently we have been a little hung up in the permitting phase, but our new architect and contractors are working together to put the last bits of permitting together.  Once that's done the build out can start full gas!   

We feel the support of the Ishpeming community and are grateful to announce we have been awarded a Facade Grant by the Ishpeming DDA. This will contribute greatly to the unique plan we have for the front facade. Additionally, we just received a 20K grant from FHL Bank of Indianapolis that will also be contributing to our work on this space and allows us to invest in some more efficient packaging technology.   

So far, there're been a number of big projects already crossed off the list like the new roof, heating and AC units installed, front facade painted, and lights converted to LED.  We're now just in a bit of a waiting game as we receive final drawings, permits, and the state has already approved our food license site plan.   As is usually the case, these projects tend to start determining their own timelines, but at this point it looks like we should be able to open this fall.

It's been a lot of tedious work, but we thought we would loosely sketch out the whole process for anyone who might be interested in what goes into opening a new roastery and cafe space.  If you're working to open your own space, we'd love to chat and see if there's any way we can help.  Feel free to drop us a line.  

How we open a new roastery...

Site Selection

We have been extremely fortunate in this regard at both our first cafe and this building.  Sometimes the pieces just line up right and the perfect doors open up before you even realize how perfect they are.  Each site comes with it's own unique challenges, but if you're looking for a place to land a cafe and roastery, I would keep this in mind:

  • Zoning - Do a little research on any municipality you're considering making your home.  Cities have rules and processes for setting up a business in certain areas of a city.  If you are doing a roastery and cafe look for a space in a typical general business district.  Be upfront with the municipalities about your plans and see if the smell of roasting may be a problem.  Be familiar with local codes and ordinances so you fully understand the feasibility of your location.  If you need to submit a change of use or change the zoning to fit your business, ask for help.  Know that any thing that needs to be changed will take time and likely a lot of paperwork.  Nothing super hard, it can just be a bit of a non-starter or big factor.   
  • Utilities - Commercial buildings can have a wide range of utility standards depending on the municipality and history of the building.  Not only do you want to ensure you have safe and steady utility supply, but if roasting is part of the plan, ensure your gas supply is hefty enough to fully supply all gas burning appliances if they were all operating at the same time.  Heaters, water heaters, and roasters consume a bit of gas, if you need an afterburner as well it's best to ensure it's possible to get the BTU's you need without a bunch of underground utility work.  Assessing water quality should also be a consideration, you may need a wide range of possible water filtration solutions depending on the water.  
  • Structure - Whether you plan to rent or own your space, keep in mind roasters and green coffee are HEAVY!  Ensure your space can support all the machinery and weight for years to come.  If you have concerns plan to make reinforcements or seek out an engineer to help.  Keep an eye on that roof too, leaks are trouble and have a tendency to form around ventilation penetrations.  
  • Location, Location, Location - Everyone's heard it... but it can't be said enough.  If you're hoping to base any portion of your revenue on retail sales you need to have a successful location.  Every space is unique and it can be extremely difficult to have the foresight to know if a location is suitable, but finding a visible, easy to access, and attractive space can only help!  If you seek to create a "destination" business just know you will have to harder earn every single patron.  Parking is another factor. Sometimes cities will require a certain amount of spaces for different businesses, other times it's not required however it will still certainly affect your business. The very best locations can be pricey, and not every pricey location is the best location.... it's one of the toughest decisions in this process.  In all, be picky, try to find reasons why a proposed location is a bad location and take your time.  In the end you'll likely have to with your gut and make it yours!  
  • Community - One of the most important elements of site selection is the community around it.  Each little town of neighborhood of a city has its own micro-culture.  Understanding what people care about in an area and making sure your brand truly speaks to them is unbelievably tied to your success.  Additionally, find a community that makes you as a business owner feel at home and happy - find somewhere you want to invest in!  We know our Marquette and Ishpeming cafes will have slightly different flairs and the reason is to better serve each person that walks through the door.    


There's so much to consider when opening a roastery.  We have been fortunate to have incremental growth in our roasting and cafe business since we opened so it always feels like we are growing and planning something new.  As we consider this space, not only are we keeping room for growth in mind, but also it needs to be an efficient and practical space for our business needs now.  We've been through the planning phases on a number of projects and here's the main points:

  • Permitting - To open our location in Ishpeming as a cafe and roastery we need the following permits and approvals.  First, we need the state's approval of our site plan in order to obtain our wholesale food manufacturing license.  This allows us to roast coffee and sell it to other businesses.  The application is rather intensive and requires a floor plan, plumbing and lighting plan, a full menu, SOP's, HACCP plan, and equipment spec sheets.  The state will also license the cafe and bar area so that we can also legally serve retail customers, but the county health department still has the authority to make sure we are also following their food safety rules.  Most cafes just need the county health department to approve.  Secondly, we need to "cross all our t's" through the building and construction process.  This includes building permits, inspections, etc.  In the commercial building world this likely will be on your contractor, but knowing the process and being involved may help move things along.  To gain occupancy many times an inspection is required by the fire inspector before opening.  We were able to reuse the existing fire suppression system, but this also requires inspections and approvals.  Some municipalities will require even more paperwork such as sign and sidewalk plans/permits and some require businesses to file a DBA just so the city if aware of your business activities.  Just like looking into zoning, this process can be incredibly tedious and seemingly endless, but take it bit by bit.  If you're asking questions and doing things above bar you'll make it happen!
  • Bar design - There could be a book on bar design.... but in terms of tips and things to consider to make your bar functional, we'd recommend these often overlooked aspects... First, think about the drains!  We've learned from experience, the shorter the drain run the better.  We would highly suggest placing your bar in the location with respect to where your main drain is located.  The closer to that and the larger diameter pipe you can use to get there, the better it will be as coffee grounds and milk sludge monsters attempt to build up in your pipes.  Build in some nice cleanouts and make it easy to service your drainage system or you probably just won't until its clogged and running all over the floor.'s best to go a little over the top with any electrical plan and make sure major appliances have their own circuits and controlled voltage.  Lastly, build a bar that is efficient and betters your brand. The bar is where customers will interact with you and your brand, use this space to help emphasis what you want and doesn't limit you.  Our motto "FAST | SIMPLE | FRESH" means we try to create bars that are focused for speed and freshness.  We like as small of a footprint as we can so that even a single person can run the bar efficiently without running from one area to the next.  
  • Roastery design - Again, there could be a book on roastery design, and really that comes down to what works for you and output volume.  Bigger roasteries need more room and very defined production areas in order to keep a large volume of coffee flowing into 12oz retail and 5lb wholesale packaging bags.  We currently roast on a 12 kilo machine and generally it's not too difficult to keep up packaging with the usual 80lb hourly output with a 2 person production team.  Scaling for us just means adding more time to the roast schedule.  Consider production area flow maximizing all areas so as to not create bottlenecks.  Clear input and output zones should be established and all elements of the production environment should be labeled and organized.  
  • Storage - Additionally, the more you roast the more you need to store.  Not just green coffee but also packaging, boxes, and roasted supply. Our new roastery will also utilize a Sovda Precision Fill machine to automatically measure out the dose of coffee for each bag.  Removing this normally manual step will not only create less strain on production employees, but also allow us to package all coffee 50% faster.  


We take on as much of a hands on approach as we can with our projects and this one is no different.  But, with a large old commercial building also comes the need for a lot of materials and a lot of skilled labor.  We've met a number of contractors along the way and we're looking forward to working with them on the elements we can't do ourselves.  The actual construction of a project is so unique to any project our approach here is just do whatever you have to do to get it built!  Work with your contractors on your budget and see how you can help it along.  Another great option if you can afford it is to just have a great architect and general contractor that can work together to create your space.  Whatever you end up doing just know construction always takes longer and costs more than you originally plan.  

It's a great idea to reach out to local makers and see if they can lend a hand and add their touch to the space as well.  Welcome creative input and see what surprising touches you can add, every little bit will contribute to the overall feel of your finished space.  


We'll keep you updated as we progress!  We cannot wait to open and grow into our new home in downtown Ishpeming. 

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