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UIX: Doug Lee and Jam'N Bean are hitting the right notes

Doug Lee

Doug Lee's approach to the arts is simple: Support them and they will grow. His approach to coffee shops works in much the same vein. At Jam'n Bean, coffee is the seed—or rather the bean—that cultivates interest in entertainment and community.
Doug Lee's approach to the arts is simple: Support them and they will grow. His approach to coffee shops works in much the same vein. At Jam'n Bean, coffee is the seed—or rather the bean—that cultivates interest in entertainment and community.
What Jam'n Bean provides in the form of refreshments and weekly events, Lee has been able to translate into scholarships for Forest Hills Central band students, and a scalable franchise that will soon be spreading throughout West Michigan and the U.S. And he says it all started with the love for music he and his family share.
"My wife and I are very passionate about getting our four kids in the school music programs, and I’ve been part of the band boosters for years," he says. “We have four kids that went from K-12 in the Forest Hills district, all have done music from fifth grade through 12th.”
When the state government passed a law requiring high school students to take two years of foreign language in order to graduate, Lee says he saw music and arts programs in Michigan start to vanish. He opened up Jam'n Bean in Cascade Township to foster appreciation for these fields, and customers soon started showing up.
"I started this coffee shop emphasizing community type events—dance showcases, theater and anything on the stage," Lee says. "I wanted kids in Forest Hills Central to see that it’s cool to be in band. They now have their own coffee shop and a place to go."
The next step was to remove the barriers to being active in band, specifically, the cost of mandatory band camp that students must raise each year. 
"Similar to a franchise model, I take 10 percent of the income that comes in the building and I put it into the music scholarships,"Lee says. "I require the kids to put in 40 hours of community service somewhere, whether it’s God’s Kitchen, or wherever they want, but if they do their 40 hours, I can offer them the scholarship to pay for band camp." 
Lee says he never intended to hand over money without a work requirement, and didn’t want to base funding on individual needs because it could limit participation. To date, Jam'n Bean has provided 134 music scholarships from the completion of over 5,360 community service hours.
Since opening Jam'n Bean, Lee has set up TV commercials to solicit a change in the school requirements, which proved successful in 2014, when Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill requiring only one year of foreign language, which students can take in eighth grade
Jam'n Bean's success is a story not often heard in the world of coffee shops, as Lee says he's seen several around him go under in the last few years.
"For someone to have a coffee and sit there all day long, maybe use the facilities, is really a model that isn’t sustainable," he says. "Have you ever been to a coffee shop and just used the WiFi after buying a coffee? Imagine, in today’s work force, a lot of contracted employees work from home, and it’s created this anomaly where a lot of people go to a coffee shop, spend $1.75 on a coffee and sit there for 8 hours."
It’s Lee’s attention to diversity and willingness to adapt that have helped Jam’n Bean do so well where others haven’t. On Wednesday nights at Jam’n Bean’s 3,000 square foot facility, visitors can find big band swing dance, and on Thursday nights, high school swing dance.
“It’s kind of like what they do down at Rosa Parks Circle,” Lee says. “On Fridays in the summer there are live concerts with the Shimmie Pearl Band and the Family. They’re both very talented.”
The scholarships and concentration on the arts are integral to Lee’s vision for Jam’n Bean, but he’s also proud of how he presents his product.
“I hired a consultant last year from California and we’ve gone over all our techniques,” Lee says. “The coffee shop itself has all been redesigned with a very European style—It’s now a coffee and organic juice bar.”
Jam’n Bean is expanding from its 6860 Cascade Rd. S.E. spot with a new shop in downtown Grand Rapids that will open September 1, in downtown Ada on Dec. 1, and a shop in the Kent County Airport concourse that will open in April 2016. Lee’s son will be traveling to Texas this year to open four new Jam’n Bean shops in Dallas, where the ArtPrize franchise was also picked up. The downtown Grand Rapids location will be an ArtPrize venue this year with 17 artists exhibiting, including Lee’s wife.
For more information on Jam’n Bean, visit www.jamnbean.com/

Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at matthew@uixgrandrapids.com.
Photography by Steph Harding 
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