Stretching from the Canadian border all the way to Fort Meyers, Florida, I-75 is the one of America’s great highways, the second longest north-south interstate. Like most Americans who’ve lived in the Midwest or Upper South, I’ve driven long sections of it, though perhaps none more monotonous than the stretch connecting Cincinnati to Detroit.
After Dayton, the trip is mostly pristine farmland, with grain silos and barns providing the only breaks in the landscape. It has all of the idyllic beauty and existential despair of an Andrew Wyeth painting. (I am– I realize– projecting my own experience of being raised in a small town– albeit on the opposite end of the country.)
Both times I drove the strip were for weddings: my wife’s second cousins in Ann Arbor. The first wedding was held on a Labor Day weekend, the second, fittingly, Memorial Day weekend a few years later. With the cruise control set at an easy 80 mph, I reminded Julie that I didn’t know any of my second cousins– let alone go to their weddings. But secretly, I was excited about the trip, because of the chance to make a brief detour to a most unlikely small town café: Flatlands Coffee in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Flatlands Coffee was founded by husband and wife Ben and Cassy Vollmar. In a hard-fought Kickstarter campaign, the Vollmars somehow convinced people who would likely never visit Bowling Green to contribute to their passion project. Graduates of Bowling Green State University, they dreamed of bringing third wave coffee culture to their beloved town. After a back-breaking 16 month buildout, the café finally opened. A rare success story when faith in the American dream has never been lower.
Located on Bowling Green’s time capsule-like Main Street, the café is bright and airy. From the eclectic lightbulbs that hang above the concrete counter to the Turkish rug that runs in front of it, there are plenty of nods to Cassy’s background in interior design. Bowling Green is a college town, and even on a holiday weekend Flatlands is filled with students and creative types. From my seat in the café it seems the baristas know most everyone who comes in. They certainly peg us as out-of-towners, and ask where we’re from– a touch of small town hospitality that one misses in the city.
Flatlands Coffee is a self-professed “extreme multiroaster” shop. In other words, their coffee lineup is constantly changing. Certainly, you’ld be hard pressed to find a North American coffee roaster they haven’t featured: Madcap, Sweet Bloom, Kuma, Methodical, Brandywine, Huckleberry, George Howell, the list goes on. It’s the sort of shop that’s the bane of wholesale directors, but a delight for every coffee nerd who wants to try as many different brands as possible. Filter brews are prepared by the cup with Kalita Waves and espresso is made on a La Marzocco Linea. Each shot is ground to order on a Mahlkönig EK43, outfitted with a patent-pending distribution funnel Ben invented.
When I visited, I enjoyed a pour-over from a nationally known roaster from my wife’s hometown in North Carolina. I couldn’t help but reflect I’ve drunk their coffee in dozens of cafés around the country, and this cup of coffee was better than most of them.
Perhaps, the Vollmars have proved what many of us already knew: specialty coffee is not the exclusive property of hip urban dwellers. People that live in small towns and rural communities like coffee too. They should all be as lucky as Bowling Green, Ohio.