Tucked into the repurposed Armory in the heart of Grand Haven and in a revived storefront on the northern edge of downtown Muskegon, Aldea Coffee is brewing up a congenial spirit of cozy community along with its specialty beans and carefully crafted beverages and homemade baked goods.
Andrea Boyd and Jeremy Miller at their Muskegon cafe.
“Every business interaction we have is a relationship, not a transaction,” says Jeremy Miller, one of Aldea’s co-owners. “We are most proud of the culture we have been able to create at our two Lakeshore cafes. We really don’t think of ourselves as a coffee company as much as seeing ourselves as a community development enterprise.”
Aldea, which is Spanish for “village” or “hamlet,” has been operating in the Grand Haven Armory for five years, alongside Grand Armory Brewing and Righteous BBQ. Its second cafe shares quarters in a former furniture emporium, at 794 Pine St. in Muskegon, with Rake Beer Project, Capone’s Speakeasy, and 794 Kitchen & Bar.
Partnerships with growers
The two retail outlets for Aldea were launched several years after the company’s founder and co-owner, Andrew Boyd, forged partnerships with several coffee farmers in La Union, Honduras, which led Boyd and Miller to sell those sourced beans and pour-over coffees at Muskegon’s Farmers Market.
“I started Aldea as a nonprofit organization to provide micro loans for agricultural farmers in Honduras,” Boyd recalls. “I didn’t have any particular type of farming or a specific crop in mind, but coffee kept bubbling up to the surface.”
By 2011, Miller had joined with Boyd in working for the nonprofit and, together, they began distributing the specialty coffees they imported from La Union as a way of supporting more micro loans and opportunities for the Honduran farmers they had come to know.
“We always speak of ‘our farmers,’ and we think of them as a central part of our Aldea family,” Miller says. “Some people may think of them as poor coffee farmers, but after spending a lot of time in Honduras, that kind of language is anathema to us. We’re not going to talk about our farmers in that way. It’s not an accurate depiction, and it perpetuates this sense of hierarchy and superiority, as though we are going down there to get something from them. It’s a balanced and even partnership with them, and that’s very important to us.”
Connection to origin
Aldea’s coffee offerings include several specialty blends, as well as sourced single-farmer beans that are marketed under the melodic names of each of the farmers with whom they partner — Alfredo Ponce, Marlon Carcamo, and Karolina Alvarenga.
Aldea Coffee was started as a nonprofit to provide micro loans for farmers in Honduras.
“We have developed and maintain an extremely strong connection to origin,” Boyd says. “We may not have known how to make a good cup of coffee at the beginning, but we knew the whole process from Honduras until the beans were ready for brewing. So many in the coffee business start at the other end — they open a cafe and find a coffee to source. We already had good relationships with the farmers, and that was a huge strength.”
The beans imported from Honduras (and now Tanzania) are roasted at Aldea’s warehouse and roastery in Muskegon Heights for use in their retail outlets, as well as for distribution to their restaurant, corporate, and church partners, including Toast ’N Jams in Muskegon, Crazy Horse in Holland, Grand Haven’s Shape Corp., All Shores Wesleyan Church in Spring Lake, and Harderwyk Christian Reformed Church and Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Holland.
An ‘exhausting’ path
Both Boyd and Miller acknowledge that the model they have followed for creating their business is neither a simple nor surefire road to success. But it remains a profoundly providential path for them.
Aldea's coffee beans come from farms in Honduras and Tanzania.
“Honestly, it’s exhausting,” Miller says. “It’s very complicated. I would not encourage people to follow our model. It’s far easier to use traditional methods of securing a supply chain — and yet we couldn’t do it any other way. For us, it’s a twist on the phrase ‘it’s not personal, it’s just business.’ We flip that to ‘it’s not just business, it’s personal.’
“Both Andrew and I are well aware of the fact that we could work far fewer hours and earn far more doing something else,” Miller continues. “Yet, it is an investment in ourselves and in our West Michigan community here, and the communities in Honduras and Tanzania, as well. And what has been surprising is the number of people who are attracted to what we are doing, who feel similar passions and who share the vision and values.”
Cooperation, social responsibility
The company’s mission statement focuses on collaboration and cooperation rather than coffee: “Together, through all we craft, we emphasize quality and value in every interaction. We believe the Earth to be an inspiring place, and we empower each other to explore, enjoy, and preserve it.”
Aldea coffee beans are roasted at the company's Muskegon Heights warehouse and roastery.
Its declaration of social responsibility is also heavy on cultivating healthy relationships, noting that “all stakeholders should be fairly and ethically treated. This begins with the farmers and their families, but includes and is not limited to employees, the community in which we operate, customers, and vendors.”
It continues: “We believe in fiscal responsibility. While profitability is important to the long-term success of an organization, it is not the focus of our daily decisions. We take pride in paying farmers and U.S. partners fair prices for the quality of their products, compensating employees appropriately for their well-being, and investing in our organization and community to create lasting success. In an effort to be good stewards of our community, we work to continuously reduce our impact on the environment. This includes encouraging people to enjoy their beverages in-house with ceramic cups, using to-go products and packaging materials that meet high environmental standards, and recycling whenever possible.”
The Aldea team members at the Grand Haven and Muskegon cafes are encouraged to get to know their customers by name as part of the company’s orientation procedure and its cultural practice. Over time, both locations have attracted a loyal contingent of customers, many of whom make Aldea a daily stop, often for hours on end.
Part of Aldea Coffee's mission statement calls for being "good stewards of our community."
“We have many customers who are devoted to Aldea, who buy our products and donate to our nonprofit development organization,” Boyd says. “The connections that happen in our Armory and Pine Street locations are mind-blowing. I never thought we would meet so many people and be so intimately involved with them. But Aldea has created a space for many people to find like-minded friends.”
For Boyd, it makes his investment of treasure and time well worth it.
“The relationships we are building are far more important than the cash we’re collecting for the product.”
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