The greatest joy of working in coffee is not having access to industrial grade equipment or even the incessant supply of free espresso. Instead, it’s the interesting people you meet, serve, and work alongside of. Few people have made an impression on me like my first manager, Chuck Korson. Chuck and I worked together at a since rebranded café which straddled the line between specialty and commercial. Besides teaching me everything I know about wine and sheep milk cheese, Chuck showed me how to pursue excellence while recognizing one’s constraints. This passion for quality and service has stuck with me. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard Chuck had finally realized his dream of opening his own coffee shop in his hometown of Traverse City, Michigan. I haven’t been able to visit BLK \ MRKT yet, but I did get the chance to ask Chuck a few questions about his shop.
Many baristas dream of opening their own shop, how long have you been planning BLK \ MRKT?
It have been dreaming of my own shop for about 10 years, but the actual planning phase of the business took about a month, followed by an almost seven month build out.
The pictures we’ve seen look gorgeous. Did you work with a designer?
Thank you so much! I’m glad the shop photographs well. I think it is a pretty awesome space in person too. I didn’t work with a designer on the space (I would not have been able to afford one even if I wanted too). I did the layout and decorating myself, but had a ton of help putting it all together. I worked with an amazing carpenter, Eric Liggett, that did all of my casework, counters, and table tops. My dad and brother put in a ton of work to helping with the shelving and all the little details. They also were instrumental in helping turn the shipping container the Spirit was sent in into the communal table in the shop.
The shop is very much my aesthetic, and I approached the design from the point-of-view of it needing to be a place that I would want to spend a lot of my time. It is the kind of space I would want to live in. It actually doesn’t look that dissimilar to my home (except for the Spirit of course!). I hope my guests feel as comfortable in it as I do because that is what really matters.
Tell us about the coffee program. What are you serving? What brew methods?
The coffee program is relatively straight forward. We offer a rotating selection of coffees from roasters across the country. I want to serve really delicious coffee so I consciously kept the menu simple. We offer filter coffee off the Fetco , espresso and milk drinks off the Spirit (#715), and a featured coffee as a manual brew-to-order. We use a Mahlkonig EK43 for both filter and espresso preparations. We also offer a seasonal selection of fun, coffee-based drinks that take their inspiration from cocktails and the broader food and beverage world.
Having a relatively simple menu allows myself and the rest of the staff to really focus in on making each thing we offer as delicious as possible. This simplicity also gives us the opportunity to take good care of our guests, and to spend the maximum amount of time interacting with them.
Japanese Style Iced Coffee – Summer Solstice – Madcap
Cold Brew – Heirloom – Mountain Air Roasting
Are you serving any food? Tea?
We are serving both food and teas! We do all of the baking in-house and everything is from scratch. We offer an assortment of baked goods that highlight as many local products and as much local produce as possible. Seasonality drives the baking and food program as much as it does the coffee program, and that is very intentional. I don’t want to beat people over the head with that concept, but it is very important to me, and I think that everything just tastes better when it is fresh!
We just launched our lunch food offerings this week, with the help of an awesome local chef, James Bloomfield. He is going to be serving up a few awesome market-driven options every Tuesday and Thursday. He is kind of a food savant, so I am beyond excited to get the chance to work with him and to have the opportunity to share what he does with our customers.
The tea program is much like the coffee program, and we try to keep it simple and delicious. We offer a rotating section of teas from all of there world. We currently offer teas from Hibiki-an in Kyoto and Kettl out of NYC.
We love your Kees Van Der Weston Spirit. Buying an espresso machine is a lot like buying a car. How did you decide on this one?
Wow, yes, the espresso machine purchase is a BIG deal. I chose the Spirit for a number of reasons. The most important ones being craftsmanship, build quality, and performance. I also love the profile of the machine and how low it sits on the counter. Even I at 5’4” can see over it easily, which is huge when you actually want to talk to your customers! Also, I bought it because it looks and feels freakin’ amazing! I mean, obviously.
Special thanks to Emily Loerke of Today’s Lettersfor sharing her images of BLK\MRKT
Michael Butterworth is an authorized instructor of the Specialty Coffee Association and the inventor of the Etkin Dripper.. He cofounded the Coffee Compass mostly as an excuse to visit more coffee shops. For consulting and training enquiries please visit butterworth.coffee.