It was a modern-day SOS, a shout for help into what felt like a void. It comes from a place that can feel lonely at the time though not uncommon for entrepreneurs.
After a decade in business and a particularly slow morning last year, the coffee shop that built its brand around saving people with a custom caffeine fix said it was ready to tap out.
The response was a full circle moment for a local business called Coffee Rescue and its owner Jamie Brock.
“When I did that, I found out that not only do I have all those customers from 10 years, that they still support me and want me to succeed, but now I have all the support of all the businesses and that’s surprised me,” says Brock.
Brock’s brother first invited her to partner in a coffee delivery service. They found a decommissioned ambulance – gurney, oxygen tanks, and all – at an auction, and they converted it into a coffee delivery service. They kept the style and structure of the vehicle for novelty, naming it Coffee Rescue.
In 2012, it was among the first to receive one of the city of Kalamazoo’s new food truck licenses. Starting out at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market, the truck made its rounds throughout the city, serving crowds at workplaces, festivals, rallies, and private events. The original ambulance has made its final run to the junk yard, replaced with a more traditional food truck that retains a décor paying homage to its beginnings.
She bought out her brother in 2014, changed the model from being a truck that followed routes centered around workplace crowds to an events and catering businesses. In November 2021, Brock established a brick-and-mortar café and a line of roasted coffee beans.
The original Coffee Rescue food truck (left) was a decommissioned ambulance. Now, it’s a typical food truck but still with an emergency rescue theme. (Photos courtesy of Jamie Brock.)
“I needed an opportunity to have more hours of availability to make more sales. And then this location came up,” Brock says.
At 8127 Portage Road, just south of Centre Avenue, the Coffee Rescue coffee shop offers custom roasted beans in classic coffees as well as additional drinks and breakfast and lunch menus for dine-in and take-out.
It’s been a constant evolution to pursue a vision for building her business and a community.
Brock taught herself how to professionally roast coffee beans during the pandemic with the help of Gordon Water Systems, a local water treatment company offering water softening, reverse osmosis, bottled water, and coffee service. She says she sources her beans from small suppliers.
“I tend to always favor Ethiopian Sidamo.” Brock says. “(They) tend to be from a little bit higher elevations in Ethiopia and the farmers there are more of a co-op. A collective type of group in that area. So, they help each other out. So that’s one of the things I like, plus the taste.”
In the shop, which features handmade gifts and a young, local artist raising funds for those dealing with homelessness, a portion of coffee sales are donated to support different philanthropic endeavors.
“I have always wanted to have an awesome part of my business model actually giving back,” Brock says.
Over the past year, she’s created a line of coffee blends, and a dollar from the proceeds of each bag serves a cause: the Pumpkin Patch Roast goes to Gryphon Place and the Community Healing Centers; Artisan Abilities Hazelnut goes to the Work Skills Foundation in Brighton, Mich.; the sweet cream espresso Ka-Smile Blend goes to the youth program Call to Inspire.
The first blend, made in March 2022, was Gatto Pups Rescue Roast, which goes to the Love Pup Foundation, a dog rescue group in Phoenix. The vanilla nut flavored batch was started with Joe Gatto, comedian and star of the show Impractical Jokers. Brock met Gatto in 2019 at a conference called The Hero Round Table, where attendees are encouraged to take a risk or make a sacrifice on behalf of others – and to which proceeds from the newest blend, Caramel to the Rescue, will go.
Recently, Brock raised $9,000 through Kiva, a crowdfunded micro-loan organization. The funds are meant to help cover cost of coffee, supplies, marketing, and future staffing.
But doing business at the new location has been a challenge. The buildout cost more money and time than Brock expected. Getting traffic into the new shop has been a struggle, too.
“One day, I got to my wit’s end, one day out of 10 years,” Brock recalls. “And I posted on Facebook ‘You know what? I made $19.75 all morning long. And I’m about to throw in the towel.’”
Brock says people reached out offering to teach her new advertising strategies, financial guidance, and other advice. To help guide traffic to the new location, banners were donated to the shop by Portage-based Bart’s Banners & Signs. Local bakeries like Victorian Bakery offered partnerships to carry Coffee Rescue’s products and vice versa. Being in business is better now.
“It really shows you that you don’t know what kind of impact you may have made or what kind of presence you have in the community,” Brock says. “You might not know it because you’re just inside your little bubble of running your business.”
Independent journalism is essential to a healthy democracy. Make a donation today.
Thank you to the community institutions that support our work: