Arick Davis and Sarah Laman are runners. They say that the most challenging portion of a run is the last mile. When comparing the state of the world to a long-distance run, they decided that these times were like that last mile. So, when it came time to name their small, online coffee business, they decided on “Last Mile Café.”
“We started our business in the middle of the pandemic, and there was so much going on — challenges with health care, the unemployment system, protests. As far as our country and civilization has come, it still feels like we have so far to go,” Davis says. “We wanted to create a company that set an example for other companies. This is the last mile for society figuring out what it needs to be and how we're all going to work together.”
Since its inception, Last Mile Café has donated more than 10% of revenue to charitable organizations that work for environmental justice, clean drinking water, criminal justice reform or youth-at-risk. Recipients include WMEAC, the ACLU, Michigan Solidarity Bail Fund and Hope Gardens, among others.
“Every quarter, we text everyone that's in [the Last Mile Café] community and ask them to nominate charities,” Davis says. “We're letting our community vote on what charities they want the money to go to.”
Arick Davis and Sarah LamanAll packaging, purchasing and processes are performed with sustainability in mind. In mid-October, when Last Mile Café moves into its new brick-and-mortar location at 1006 Hall St. SE, Davis and Laman plan to grow these aspects of their business even more. The location will also include a retail coffee shop. Last Mile Café already uses compostable packaging. When the physical location opens, Arick and Laman hope to approach zero waste for all operations. They try to source coffee beans that are sustainably grown and processed. At some point, they hope to build their own direct relationships with green coffee growers.
“There's really two ways to process the coffee,” Davis explains. “One, they set it out in the sun the cherries fall off naturally — if you imagine the pit inside of a cherry, that is essentially the coffee bean that we all use. Or, the growers can power-wash them to get the cherries to come off. It’s faster and more consistent but in many countries where they grow coffee, people don't necessarily even have access to clean drinking water.”
“We'll be doing the full [production] process in the Café,” Davis says. “ We will be roasting the coffee there. And then we'll do all the packaging and shipping. All the coffee drinks that we serve in the Café will be that coffee that we're roasting in Grand Rapids.”
Davis grew up in the 49507, near the new Last Mile Café brick-and-mortar location. After completing his degree at Michigan Technological University in 2016, he worked for several Fortune 500 companies — Dematic, Western Digital and Goldman Sachs. He discovered that capitalism does not treat everyone fairly and too few coffee and tea brands are committed to justice.
“When I came back to Grand Rapids, I noticed, there weren't many coffee shops over here,” he says. “I was living at Franklin and Eastern and the closest coffee shops are all the way up on Wealthy Street, which is not even in the same neighborhood.”
Last Mile Café’s Hall Street location will employ 11 staff members to handle roasting, packaging, distribution and the retail coffee shop. The plan is to increase production, get into more retail stores and ramp up online sales.
“Having this physical space will also create this café environment where people can come and hang out in the community,” Davis says. “So many people have come to us to tell us, ‘You're our favorite coffee. We like the way that you're doing this. We like the way this tastes.’ Grand Rapids has a lot of great coffee companies. Michigan as a state has a lot of great coffee companies, too. I think that more people are looking to Grand Rapids for coffee.” Arick Davis and Sarah Laman inspect equipment for their online coffee business.
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Last Mile Café