Article by Janelle Lake
Photos by Charles Davenport
Bustling in through the back door of Brewtopia coffee shop in downtown Bay City, carrying a diaper bag and his nine-month-old daughter Adelaide, owner Aaron Bolt took some time from his busy schedule as both father and store owner for an interview. The first thing out of his mouth upon sitting down was "Who sent you? What do they want?” A terrific ice breaker, especially when said with a straight face.
At the other end of the room, the jingle of the old-fashioned doorbell announced front-door entrants to Brewtopia, at 810 Saginaw Street. On any given day, visitors are likely to be greeted by the sounds of animated conversation and laughter as well. Rich aromas of the many beverages being prepared waft enticingly throughout the the shop, furnished with wooden café tables, couches and over-stuffed chairs. Some dozen orignal artworks by local artists decorate the walls (one of them a 360 Main Street Photo of the Day, framed). That day the baby grand piano sat silently, like the laptop users intently busy online, courtesy of complimentary Wi-Fi.
Before becoming the owner of Brewtopia in 2008, Bolt had worked for his older brother when Brewtopia was known as The Harvest. After his brother left to focus on his Frankenmuth business, still named The Harvest, the younger Bolt knew that he needed to rename and rebrand his shop. After three months of batting around suggestions with one of his barristas, Lance Hill, Aaron realized that wanted his shop to embody the "ultimate ideal of coffee": Brewtopia.
Like most coffeeshops today, Brewtopia serves beverages ranging from cold, all-fruit smoothies to hot brewed coffees, teas and chocolates. The fresh taste of Brewtopia's coffees is the result of Bolt roasting the beans right there in the shop. He buys the beans fresh—green—and in the roasting tumbler, which heats up to 450 degrees, the beans are infused with their special flavor. Customers can buy beverages for consumption in house or to go, and the unground coffee beans as well. Mexican Oaxaca, Ethiopian Yirgacheffee, Mayan, Sumatran Mandheling, Columbian, Panamanian, Papau New Guinean, Kenyan AA Plus sit in containers along side the whimisical Jamacian Me Crazy and staple Brewtopia House Blend. The Tanzanian and Sumatra Mandeling are fair trade certified.
As soon as a customer choses from the display of appetizing baked goods (muffins, bagels and biscotti) and menu of Americanos, expressos, lattés, chai teas (including white with milk or dirty with a shot of expresso) or hot chcolate, the friendly barristas spring into action behind their lab-like machinery. Barrista Adam Simmons expresses himself well with his self-named Adam Bomb (a black coffee with a shot of expresso and a shot of chocolate)—one of the more highly flavored drinks on the menu.
Bolt chose to keep his business downtown rather than moving to a location nearer the mall and catering to a younger crowd because, as he quipped, "It's really hard to move a building. Also, within a half mile of the mall I get cold sweats. I’m allergic to the smell of over-consumption and canned fashion." Bolt is content to serve a more diverse clientele.
In the future, Bolt hopes for "global domination" in the local market. Translate that into having no empty seats on a Monday morning—anytime, for that matter—but particularly for the special events held there, such as the monthly poetry, fiction and music open mic night arranged by Chuck Davenport, Gallery Walks on the first Thursday of each month, and Thursday night bluegrass shows. Bolt's main objective is to stay involved for and with the community, so he is open to suggestions for future events. After all, what is a utopia, even a Brewtopia, without the people that make it possible?
© Janelle Lake, 2010