GRAND RAPIDS — A meeting over coffee between the leaders of a pair of family-owned businesses in West Michigan ultimately led to a new collaboration involving their companies.
Soon, customers who visit Koeze Co.’s specialty nut and chocolate storefront at 1971 East Beltline in Grand Rapids will have the opportunity to grab a cup of joe from an in-store, full-service coffee bar from Schuil Coffee Co.
The partnership enhances the in-store shopping experience for Koeze, while also providing Schuil Coffee another place to offer its specialty coffee in a full-service setting other than its storefront and roastery at 3679 29th Street.
According to Schuil Coffee CEO Tim Volkema, the partnership made sense because both companies are well established, both deal with specialty foods and have similar family ownership structures.
Grand Rapids-based Schuil Coffee Co. was established in 1930 by Garry Schuil, who started off the business by importing and roasting arabica coffee beans and roasting specialty coffee. The company sells its coffee at other retailers and directly to customers through its website.
Meanwhile, Koeze is a fourth generation family-owned Grand Rapids-based company that was founded in 1910 and specializes in handcrafted peanut butter, gourmet nuts and chocolates. The company sells its products online and in its two retail stores on the East Beltline, and from a storefront at its production facility at 2577 Burlingame Ave. SW.
Rather than focus singularly on return on investment, both family-owned companies prioritize quality as their driving factor, Volkema said.
“As a family business, you still want the return on investment, but there is a legacy aspect to whatever project you’re considering so it’s at a pace and scale where you can still control quality,” Volkema said.
Family businesses often lack access to resources of larger corporations, so they have to operate on a scale that makes sense, said Don Cumming, vice president of marketing at Koeze.
“By focusing on Grand Rapids and partnering with another Grand Rapids-based company, there is a lot of synergy for us and we’ll build a better specialty food space in the building,” Cumming said.
Adding the coffee element to Koeze’s shop also helps the company expand the customer base at the storefront outside of the holiday season, which makes up the bulk of its business, Cumming said. Koeze is expanding the store’s hours for the expected extra traffic the coffee bar will bring.
“This idea came together with me reaching out to Tim and us literally having a cup of coffee at their 29th Street store,” Cumming said. “That is one of the greatest things about working for a small company: It’s easier to make decisions because there is less bureaucracy and you can decide things more on the go. It’s been six to 12 months since we met and we’ve been able to move very quickly and make all the physical changes to our current store.”
Before the pandemic, Koeze’s store had more space dedicated to hands-on services, like scooping candy and nuts from bulk bins and gift wrapping stations. These services still exist, but the company scaled them back during the pandemic, which ended up being preferred by customers, Cumming said.
“We’re sticking with some of those changes that we made, and consequently we have excess space we’re using to accommodate the Schuil Coffee bar,” Cumming said. “We’re borrowing some of Schuil’s trained baristas to come over to the Koeze location to get this up and running with people who know the Schuil product, so we’re also partnering on the staffing front.”
Other companies have approached Schuil Coffee about forging a similar partnership, but the prospect only clicked in the meeting with Koeze, said Volkema, who acquired the coffee roastery in 2017 from Greta Schuil, who made up the second generation of family ownership for the company.
“When I purchased this company from the Schuil family, I promised I would uphold the legacy,” Volkema said. “Having a Schuil bar in somebody else’s space, it’s extremely important they understand how that will be executed. Family business connection is one of the main factors in why this partnership came to fruition.”
Pinnacle Construction Group recently completed construction of the coffee bar at Koeze’s space. The partners expect to officially begin pouring coffee on Sept. 28.