Drink Coffee the Stress Free Way at Narrow Way Café!

Michelle Abbey – Zingerman’s Coffee Company
narrow way cafe

Detroit, MI.

Business Type:

April 2016

It’s a hot summer morning, and I’m driving into Detroit. My A/C is lukewarm at best, so my windows are down, and my hair is whipping onto my face. It’s my first time driving to the Avenue of Fashion, and to Narrow Way cafe. You know how it is – even if you’re looking forward to the destination, sometimes the journey is frazzling. Finding parking, making sure you’re getting there on time, defensive driving. I’m stepping on the skirt that’s too long for my 5’2” stature, quickening my steps to make sure I get there on time.

As soon as I walked through the door of the Narrow Way (a cafe we provide roasted coffee beans to), it felt like I closed my eyes and sank into a bath. My shoulders dropped, and I felt like I exhaled for the first time that morning. I was greeted with calm, friendly smiles from the baristas. The first thing that caught my eye was a light wood bar that opened onto the sidewalk, with seating on either side. This is made possible with a garage door that opens up and tucks away. It creates this balance in the cafe of natural lighting, with soft dim lighting further inside. Soft music was playing at the perfect volume to add to the ambiance, but not loud enough to take over a conversation.

Sabrina, the General Manager and Partner at Narrow Way cafe, greets me with a warm hello. We take a seat at the en plein air bar. A barista brings me my coffee order – the sleek minimalist cups say “Stress Free”. I laugh and tell Sabrina that my morning stress really did dissipate as soon as I stepped through the doors, and I’m eager to learn more about their approach!

Zingerman’s Coffee: You say that you offer a “stress-free” environment. How do you and your team curate this experience for your guests?

Sabrina: My partner and I were discussing a study conducted at the University of Michigan about understanding the core of your business, what business you’re in. So, we brainstormed, we did not want to limit ourselves. For example, the railroad industry focused on railroads versus keeping the big picture of general transportation in mind. We thought, sure, we want to sell coffee, but what business are we in? We thought more about coffee…lots of people drink coffee, not just for the taste, but for the energy. They need energy because they’re tired! They have a lot going on in their day. Drinking coffee is a moment to decompress and to get a boost for the next thing in your day. Sometimes, cafes do not offer the type of environment that people are seeking from their coffee. It’s loud, names are shouted, lines are long. We’re not in the coffee business; we’re in the “stress-free” business. This was taken into account for everything – the warm low lighting, the open air seating, comfortable booths. Usually we’re playing instrumental jazz, which is very soothing. There’s plants, flowers, even the bathrooms are relaxing. “Stress free” carries into our business practices, too – it’s something we keep in mind for our staff meetings. We’re even working with a local Detroit company to create organic, all-natural bath salts and scrubs – we have a coffee scrub! The reviews we get reflect what we’re doing here – we get wonderful comments about the customer service, and the overall vibe.”

ZC: Tell me a bit about the Cafe’s neighborhood. What do you see happening that you’re excited about?

S:Detroit is awesome, despite what’s thrown our way. We’re strong and resilient. There’s a resurgence happening, and not just downtown. Small business popping up everywhere! We’re a part of Motor City Match, whose affiliates are helping Detroit natives carry out their dreams and ambitions, and it helps with the upswing of economy here. We’re located on the Avenue of Fashion, and it’s an honor to be part of this historical community. We see people coming back, shopping small, local, black-owned businesses. We love it, and want to be a part of it.”

“Our cafe started in a church, and it was really about serving and sharing love at that point. What better way to do that then extend it beyond the congregation? We noticed that this area didn’t have small, privately owned coffee shop. The community reception, even before we started and then during buildout, was amazing. People in community as well as local business owners have supported us; neighborhood councils have reached out to have us join.

The attraction and enthusiasm seems mutual! We wanted to provide a place where people can see their neighbors and familiar faces, and we see that every day! Customers who we didn’t know knew each other! We had regulars within the first week.

outdoor seating

ZC: How did the decision to work with the Zingerman’s Coffee Company align with your business perspective?

S: Working with Zingerman’s was our greatest idea – it has been such a help and benefit. The relationship we have with Zingerman’s is key! Not only great product, but the mentorship, too. We see great values in product, customer service, and how Zingerman’s does business. We look at that and love, appreciate, and aspire to incorporate it into our own business. It’s absolutely key in so many ways. We love the Zingerman’s Coffee Company! We have great partnerships with Steve, Matthew, Chris – they are a wealth of knowledge. Diane was amazing and still is! Even when Diane transitioned out of her role, you know, you worry about who you’re going to work with next…but Laura is amazing! Zingerman’s is always conscientious of the realities of being a small business, and willing to help a lending hand. It’s been a great resource.

sabrina swain

ZC: What does success and progress for the Narrow Way Cafe look like?

S: Do we want to expand? Absolutely! Can’t pinpoint when that would be. We want other Narrow Ways. Within the city of Detroit. We want to not only serve more people, but provide more things. We have grown from providing to baked goods to sandwiches as well. We have gotten into catering! It came out of nowhere. We get calls and requests for things that we don’t do yet, but we will certainly consider down the road. We try to accommodate as best we can! We even had a birthday party here for a little girl with smoothies and baked goods.

baked goodies

As I was wrapping up my morning at Narrow Way, I sat down to enjoy the rest of coffee. An older gentleman beside me had a bright mango smoothie that I immediately envied. I asked him if he was a regular customer. Jeffrey told me it was his first time there, that his barber just down the street who had been in business for 30-plus years recommended the cafe to him. He was looking for a boost and needed a break today, and found it in Narrow Way’s cozy dark booths. “I just realized that the seating is partially outside” he said, thumbing toward the long high-top table that had seating within the cafe on one side, and seating on the sidewalk on the opposite side. “I like it. I like this place.”

Jeffrey and I both agreed that we would not be strangers at Narrow Way.

To learn more about Narrow Way cafe (and enter to win a free bag of beans via weekly raffle!) check out their website here: https://thenarrowwaycafe.com/

If you’d like to become one of the cafes, grocery stores, or universities that are serving our coffee, get started here: http://www.zingermanscoffee.com/wholesale-information/