A downtown East Lansing business mainstay, Blue Owl Coffee, which opened its doors at 213 Ann St. back in March 2019, is moving. The new location at 1034 Trowbridge Road is expected to open in December of this year.
Blue Owl will remain open at the downtown East Lansing location until its lease ends late November. Until the full shop is up and running, owners are returning to their roots, offering a pop-up coffee shop and getting to know their new neighbors.
The community-centered coffee shop, owned by Nick Berry, Rich Whitman and Adam Klein, began as a coffee cart in downtown Lansing in 2017. The mobile caffeine buzz bike turned into a brick-and-mortar when their first location opened in REO Town in April 2017. Today, the small business has three separate locations: East Lansing and in Lansing’s REO Town and Old Town.
Berry, who is also CEO of Blue Owl, said the East Lansing location never got to experience full traction because of the lengthy construction period, followed by the pandemic.
“You can always walk into a coffee shop and it looks busy,” Berry said. ”That’s what we set out to be, is a place for you to set up shop, do your day and be a part of our community. We never want that to change. What people don’t realize is that person has been sitting there for three hours and they might have bought one drink.
“It’s a balancing act that works really well in our other locations,” he said. ”But when we got into East Lansing, our costs were just far higher and we’re doing the same amount of business.”
The higher rental prices coupled with parking issues and costs precipitated the move.
“That was the one comment we got constantly, not only from our staff, but also from people coming to events, was that they wanted to have a place to park and they didn’t want to have to pay twice for a cup of coffee,” Berry said.
The co-owners began looking for new locations in the beginning of 2023 and found the spot on Trowbridge. The new location, across from Fresh Thyme and near Barre Code in East Lansing, has plenty of free parking right out front. The space was previously Iorio’s Gelato and is, Berry said, well suited for another coffee shop/cafe atmosphere.
The new location still has a very good access to the student life but is not tied to that seasonal cycle of business.
“When you’re tied to downtown, you’re almost doing your year’s worth of business in eight months,” he said. “This puts us in access to a lot of residential housing, international students, off campus housing, offices, hotels and the highway traffic.”
The new location also features a large patio space where events can be held and offer additional open-air seating. Berry hopes the space can be utilized for MSU tailgating and gameday block parties in the fall, partnering with nearby businesses like Barre Code.
A new partnership with Goodfellas Bagels will also be announced later this month, offering breakfast sandwiches on the menu.
“The other businesses here are excited because they said they needed a bigger spot to turn this into an actual neighborhood feel,” Berry said, adding he hopes to help foster a small business camaraderie.
“We will be doing the pop-up shop as much as we can during the construction over the next three to four months. On Dec. 1, we are no longer at the other East Lansing space,” Berry said of that 3,000-square-foot location. “The last day of November, it will be no more.”
During the pop-up hours (typically Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.), customers can purchase coffees, Blue Owl’s top-selling cold brew cans, teas and espressos. But no food will be made in-house. The new mobile full espresso bar cart, purchased from Runabout Coffee in Lansing, is also available for event rentals.
Despite the new location, Berry said the familiar neighborhood coffee shop vibe will remain the same. Each location features unique visual touches and themed decor representative of their respective neighborhoods. The 1,700-square foot space at Trowbridge will be adorned with black walls and pops of the signature “Blue Owl” blue color paint.
While Berry will miss the big moments and milestones that took place in the downtown East Lansing spot among co-workers, friends, couples and students, he’s looking forward to fostering that familiar sense of community in the new location.
“We are your community, neighborhood coffee shop,” Berry said. “I’m hoping that we still have a following that follows us over here.”