I travel up to Holland, Michigan a lot—at least once every month and a half or so—to visit family. As taxing as the three hour drive always is (particularly because of the frequency of it), the City of Holland always rewards me as it is the home of two fantastic breweries (New Holland and Our Brewing), a great little Michigan wine shop, an incredible cigar shop, and two independent coffee shops—one of which is a subpar roastery and one of which is a hip place that has a lot going for it.
An emphasis on coffee quality, an obvious willingness to learn more and more about specialty coffee that is exhibited by every single employee, a really positive atmosphere, a great venue for local bands, and a desire to be Holland’s cultural epicenter all make Lemonjello’s Coffee the most exciting small business in Holland.
And that’s the place I like to spend my time whenever I’m in town. And, today, I invite you to visit them with me.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of Lemonjello’s Coffee in Holland, Michigan. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Lemonjello’s Coffee opened for business in 2003 with the focus of providing the people of Holland with great coffee, a great venue for local and indie bands and artists, and a great place to just be (as their website says, “Lemonjello’s wants to be a place where life is happening.”). Since then, the cafe has become a bit of a local staple and a favorite amongst native Hollands and Hope College students alike. Each time I go in for a cup of coffee, I’m hard-pressed to find a place to sit (which is incredible considering the size of the shop and the amount of seating they have).
This is also probably due to the fact that Lemonjello’s is one of just a handful of businesses in downtown Holland that doesn’t shut down on Sundays—a feature of ultra-conservative Small Town, America that never ceases to absolutely unhinge me.
I really like the atmosphere in Lemonjello’s Coffee—a completely functional use of their space, a bar by the windows, a fantastic selection of music pouring out of the speakers, board games for customers to play, a merchandise section discretely tucked away on the side of the store, a large space behind the bar for baristas to maneuver around each other, make drinks comfortably and expedite service, a prime location in the downtown area—Lemonjello’s truly offers a great experience.
Lemonjello’s has also always been a coffee shop that is really in tune with making a difference, not just in their community but also in the coffee world—up until very recently, as their house coffee, they featured a company called Equal Exchange, which they brew in air pots (for patrons that need to pop in and out really quickly) and as pour-overs at the bar. Equal Exchange is an organization that partners with family-owned co-ops to the public provide organically grown, fairly traded coffees.
However, for as great and admirable of a business practice as Equal Exchange has, their coffee is… Well. It’s pretty bad. Which is a real shame—their mission as a company is to treat farmers fairly, but what they do to those farmers’ coffees is a real crime. But, still, the coffee that Lemonjello’s served was heads and shoulders above their only legitimate competition in town.
Regardless of the past, though, you can probably imagine my excitement when it was announced that, starting July 15, Lemonjello’s will be taking a really big step into the realm of truly specialty coffee as they will now be serving Madcap Coffee—the pride and joy of Grand Rapids, Michigan—and one of my personal hometown favorites, Chicago’s own Halfwit Coffee Roasters.
These two roasters are an absolutely perfect fit for Lemonjello’s, and an even better fit for the City of Holland. Their coffees are every bit as dynamic and interesting and delicious as any other specialty roaster in the country, making them a real treat for coffee connoisseurs/geeks/snobs like me, but they’re also accessible to the Everyman.
And this is a very important highlight for Lemonjello’s to really emphasize, because they are the only ones that are providing Holland truly exceptional coffee. The only other options there for consumers are Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and JP’s Coffee—all of which, and excuse me for not pulling any punches here, are truly abysmal.
And here is the fine line that Lemonjello’s has to walk upon now—being the only coffee shop in a 30 mile radius that offers a specialty coffee experience while not alienating Holland’s base of casual consumers. So, for the time being, (and as much as it pains me to say this) they need to keep serving their sugar-laden espresso drinks.
From my perspective, though, they should at least cut back on that menu; it won’t hurt them any as they have no shortage of sugary concoctions. The following is just a small snippet of their menu:
Stress Reliever – chocolate + caramel + hazelnut
Nonchalant – white chocolate + caramel
La - chocolate + peppermint
Dreamy - chocolate + vanilla
Invincible - chocolate + blackberry
Rainy Day – double chocolate
Dork – double chocolate + extra shot espresso
Lemoncholy - chocolate + fresh banana
Indecisive - chocolate + white chocolate
Warm Thoughts – white chocolate + cinnamon
Comfort – white chocolate + hazelnut + vanilla
Buzzed – honey + vanilla
Mellow – caramel + vanilla
Intoxicated – Irish cream + butterscotch
Lemonjello’s is host to an absurd amount of these flavored beverages, and, if they really want to make the transition to being a legitimate third-wave coffee retailer, it is absolutely paramount to focus all of their attention on the coffee. I don’t think, though, that they should get rid of all their syrups and sauces overnight—that’d be too much of a shock for their base of regulars (which is made up, mostly, of young adults, college students, and high schoolers). However, over time, it’s really paramount for Lemonjello’s Coffee to phase all of that stuff out. The focus should be on their slow pour bar, the quality of their coffee, and their espresso machine.
Now is not the time to rest on their laurels—now is the time to boldly step into their new future and trust that their regulars will follow. Lemonjello’s has the sort of customer loyalty that, so the direction that the business goes, so their regulars will also go. This is certainly a well-deserved loyalty that Lemonjello’s has worked really hard for over the past decade and, with the recent changes coming to the shop, they have a lot to be excited about.
The rest of Holland should start getting excited, too.
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