Populace Coffee

Walking into Populace Coffee, the first thing you notice isn't the coffee, it's the room.⠀

You're greeted by a big, open space with wooden floors and high ceilings. You hear voices, clinking of cups, and the sounds of the espresso machine slightly bounce off the walls. Clean, simple, but not un-cozy, the large room is set up in a way that creates smaller rooms - a long wooden table to the left, a bar table lining the wall to the right, smaller tables and chairs throughout the space, and couches in the back left corner.⠀

They've created a beautiful space that doesn't appear empty or unnecessary, and it's one of the first things we talk about as I sit down with Andrew Heppner and Dave Daniele, the business partners behind Populace.⠀

"We wanted a big space full of smaller spaces," Dave says.⠀
"Yeah, that's exactly what I felt as I walked in," I reply. I ask if they hired a designer or if they came up with the concept.⠀
"No, we did it ourselves."⠀

"We did it ourselves" is a common theme in many small businesses, and Populace isn't an exception. ⠀

Throughout our conversation, it's apparent that creating their own way is an important part of what Populace is; from the opening of the cafes, to the roasting of the beans, to the design work that covers the front door, cups, coasters, and packaging, Andrew and Dave are aware that each one of them have different skill sets that they can combine to build a brand that is all their own work.⠀

"I think we try to focus on the areas that each one of us are great at, rather than trying to overextend ourselves," Andrew says. "In the beginning I was used to always doing everything by myself and outsourcing work, but our brand didn't really start being a brand until Dave came on board. I think we both understand now what this all is, and we both have a mutual understanding of what we want it to become."

What drew you to roasting coffee?⠀

"I worked in coffee before I started Populace, and I saw the opportunity," Andrew says. "At the time, there were probably three roasters in Michigan."⠀

They're creating an interesting business model - roasting the coffee that goes directly to their cafes and developing plans to open more, creating buyers by creating retail spaces.⠀

I ask them what kind of value they bring to the business being able to select and roast the coffee the serve in their cafes.⠀

"We're able to stay close to the product from the time that we get it through the door from an importer, to when we roast it, then packaging, and then into the cafe. We're able to know the coffee and explain it in an accessible way to our customers."⠀

Roasting the coffee themselves also keeps their overhead low - they can be competitive in pricing and still be a specialty.⠀

"One of the ideas is that we don't necessarily want to drive people into thinking that it's a premium product - it's a specialty coffee and a premium kind of thing - but rather than making people think that's it's really nice by charging too much, we charge two bucks for our drip to attract more people into our space. If they're here and they're feeling adventurous and want to try something new, it's there, but if not, there's always the two buck drip.”

I ask Dave and Andrew where they want Populace to be in five years.⠀

"More cities."⠀

"More cities in Michigan?"⠀

"In Michigan, but I'd also like to be in places like Indianapolis, Columbus. The Midwest is completely overlooked constantly. lf you look at every large coffee company and how they've grown, they've either started on the East cost or West coast and just transferred back and forth from there. So I think there's a huge opportunity here in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, because everybody here loves coffee. You can see it. Our goal since the beginning is to get all different kinds of people here, and even though we have only been open two weeks, we're already getting that wide range of different kinds of people who all love coffee."⠀

All the different definitions of the word "populace" focus on one thing - people. Andrew and and Dave are building a brand around the idea that coffee can be "for the people" - not elite or pretentious, but fun and accessible while still being a high quality product.