Category: Food and Drink

Michigan coffee company’s future focused on 100% farm-direct sourcing

When Bob Fish, the co-founder of Michigan-based Biggby Coffee, talks about the future of the business, some might be shocked to hear his assessment that “coffee as a product is unsustainable.”

But that’s exactly what Fish says and why Biggby is trying to change the equation.

And it starts with the goal and benefits of farm-direct sourcing 50% of Biggby’s 2 million pounds of coffee purchased each year by 2023. After that accomplishment, Biggby will set its eyes on buying 100% of its product from farmers with whom Biggby has a lasting relationship.

Here’s why that’s important and what it means both for Biggby and its farm partners:

There are more than 200 labor hours to produce a single cup of coffee, Fish explains. It includes a supply chain that involves farms, workers who are often mistreated, brokers, roasters and more middle layers that seemingly work against each other.

“Between climate change and traders driving the price down, farmers simply cannot economically survive,” Fish said. “So, what happens? The farms can’t make it and are being abandoned. This puts the whole supply chain at risk.

“We believe businesses are here to solve problems, not create problems, but that’s what’s happening in coffee, and it’s why we are focused on doing business directly with farmers that treat the planet right and treat their people right.”

The straight line from farmer to Biggby involves extensive research and travel to confirm that the grower has the same passion for social responsibility and community investment, Fish said. As part of the evaluation, Biggby requires:

  • Farmers who pay workers above the national average and employ no child labor.
  • Farms that employ sustainable and organic practices.
  • Farmers who engage others with strong and local social missions.

Fish and his wife, Michelle, visit farms and stay for days at a time, and at different times – during the growing, harvesting and off-seasons – to assess the commitment, he said. Biggby can be a stabilizing force for the growers, providing a premium payment by eliminating the broker/middleman and granting the farmer financial safety and security for their coffee. That allows for future investment in the farm and the community. It also ensures Biggby a sustainable pipeline of coffee for the future.

Follow the journey: Bob and Michelle Fish blog about farm-direct sourcing and local heroes

Leana Ferrey, left, with her daughter, Miriam Morales, in the African drying beds at the El Recreo Coffee Estate

Leana Ferrey, left, with her daughter, Miriam Morales, in the African drying beds at the El Recreo Coffee Estate

One of Biggby’s farm partners is the El Recreo Cofffee Estate in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There, Leanna Ferrey and her family have an established farm that pays its workers fairly, shares a quest for growing a quality product and displays a care for its people that goes above and beyond.

Ferrey established an on-site school for the workers’ children to attend through the fourth grade, and she does not allow youth to work on the farm. Each child earns a scholarship and transportation to attend school in a nearby town through high school. She helps them find a way to go to college, if they choose, Fish said. She’s also helped educate the workers, many of whom were illiterate, provide basic health care and provide certainty that there is food for three meals a day.

“It’s really just amazing what she and her family have done,” Fish said. “And this wasn’t because of us but because it’s what they believed in and how they think people should be treated. She is making a difference now and for future generations.

“It’s exactly what we want, and it fits with our belief that you should feel good about doing business with people. And to take that to the next step, we hope a consumer can feel good about doing business with us because they know what our establishment stands for.”

Biggby has a second relationship with a Zambian farm that supports an orphanage. Fish and his team are cultivating more partnerships that create an impact abroad and reflect the coffee company’s values.

“We could go out and get the cheapest coffee and continue to pressure the fragile coffee economy, but we’d rather put money directly in the hands of the farmers who are doing their best,” Fish said. “We want to be involved with people who care for and are engaged with their community just as we are with ours.”

Michigan beer industry outlook strong, but COVID-19 threatens brewers

Glasses of beer on a state of Michigan shaped board

Scott Graham jokes that watching the Michigan beer industry grow for more than 30 years reminds him of parents watching their children grow up.

“When parents are in the midst of raising a family, they don’t always see the growth and may not notice the changes over time, but to others the changes are much more dramatic,” Graham, the executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild, said recently. “But then you step back and that child isn’t so little anymore and they’re out on their own.

“That’s kind of how it is with Michigan having nearly 400 breweries. The state of the industry is amazing, but people take it for granted because that’s where we are now. I can tell you, though, it wasn’t a given. People flew in the face of adversity, they grinded and scraped by to build all these community assets that we have today. That’s really noteworthy.”

It’s also a timely and relevant reminder amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken a whipsaw to both established and fledgling brewers’ business. It should serve as a nudge to visit a local brewery for a drink, a meal or some beers to take home, as well as a move to snag a Michigan brew at retailers, Graham said.

“Surviving the COVID pandemic of 2020 – let’s hope it’s just 2020 – I have concern for our friends who make up our membership. There’s not a big pile of money behind breweries. Everybody works hard and has to give it everything they’ve got.

“It’s not easy street, but I really think and hope that our industry will get through this hiccup and it will ultimately be stronger. The faster that can happen, the better. So, to the extent that anyone can, it’s a great time to support these local businesses.”

The Michigan Brewers Guild represents more than 300 brewers, ranking Michigan as the sixth largest beer state in the U.S. The industry supports 21,000 full-time jobs and nearly $900 million in employee income. The total economic impact of Michigan’s craft breweries is more than $2.5 billion.

The guild, which also has enthusiast and business memberships for backers not directly involved in the industry, promotes Michigan beer and aims to help breweries in the state reach 20 percent of sales by 2025. It has designated each July as Michigan Beer Month, but the drive to help breweries succeed is a year-round endeavor.

That push is generally highlighted by seasonal beer festivals that bring people from around Michigan and the Midwest to sample beers and interact with industry players. The pandemic has forced the cancellation of the summer and U.P. festivals, while the fall festival hangs in the balance. Dropping the events from the calendar pains Graham.

“Those are really good times to get together and see old friends,” he said. “I think we’re all sad in different ways because we can’t do that and then the breweries can’t show what they’ve been working on. And the festivals have always been a chance for people to learn who’s out there, what’s new and how we got to where we are.”

Graham, however, said there are new opportunities to become familiar with Michigan beer through the weekly Michigan’s Great Beer State podcast that he co-hosts with Fred Bueltmann, an industry veteran.

The podcast was developed as an outtake from interviews and conversations Bueltmann had while chronicling Michigan beer for the guild’s book project “A Rising Tide, Stories from the Michigan Brewers Guild.” The show is a mixture of the history and stories shared by brewers while also providing a forum to talk about the current state of the industry.

“We knew we had something with those interviews because there’s so much that people either don’t know or forget over time,” Graham said. “The podcast and the book are great ways to get a look inside at all the people and incredible beer that call Michigan home.”

The continued focus on local craft beer will energize breweries and their employees as they operate under social distancing guidelines and occupancy limits.

“I still see an industry maturing, and I anticipate growth because people recognize the value of having creativity and locally owned businesses in their communities,” Graham said.

Visit the Michigan Brewers Guild website to learn more and here’s a map to discover a brewery near you.

‘We make it happen,’ learn how Flint business cares for community

Halo Burger bag

When Terry Thomas and his family owned and operated the Halo Burger restaurants in Flint, he was surprised when his sister told him that he was sponsoring 31 youth league teams at one time – not the dozen or so he believed he was helping

Thomas recalls his reaction with a laugh: “You’re kidding. I didn’t know I had that many,” he said, without being fazed by the pledges to the community.

He sees the same spirit from the leaders of Halo Country LLC, which took ownership of Halo Burger restaurants in 2016. Halo County shows a commitment to restore the Michigan-based chain’s original mission of offering great food, treating people with respect and making a difference in the lives of its workers and the public.

Watch as Thomas and current Halo Burger employees talk with MLive’s John Gonzales about being able to help people when they need it, during the current COVID-19 pandemic and throughout the year.


Founders focuses on lifting Michigan brewing community’s connections, culture

Founders Brewing Co.

At Founders Brewing, our story has lots of twists and turns.

From Mike, our CEO, taking a second mortgage on his home while growing his family, to the bank almost putting a lock on Founders’ doors, getting to where we are today took a lot of hard work, risks, experimentation, and ultimately a community who believed in what we were trying to do.

Founders Brewing Co. logoWe know that an exciting new beer release, or simply enjoying a beer that has been around for years, means nothing if it doesn’t bring people together.

And that’s part of what being an artist is about: Experimenting, refining, and sharing ones craft with the community around them, bringing people together to enjoy and celebrate their craftsmanship.

What we learned at the beginning, back in 1997, is as true today as it was then – brewing is about being part of a supportive culture where people are challenged and encouraged to do their best. Where people can come together and enjoy the art of beer.

Amy Sherman and John Gonzalez at Railtown Brewing

That’s why when the pandemic hit, we knew that the best thing we could do was to highlight the artisans in the creative community around us, a glimmer of positive hope in an otherwise uncertain time. Our founders have felt the deep fear of almost having to close our doors, but it was when we were able to innovate and make a beer that this community loved, and when this community continued to support us, that we were able to make it out and to where we are today. So it’s our turn to give back to this community, and highlight other crafters – artists, musicians, printers, bakers, potters, jewelers and more – all in an effort to raise awareness and bring people together through art and inspiration.

Now, we’re turning the attention to our craft – beer – and highlighting Michigan brewers, some established and some new; some who distribute and some who don’t; some that might face situations similar to our past. For the love of our craft, we cheers them for contributing to the craft culture of Michigan.

Visit and follow us on social media – @foundersbrewing – to read more #CraftedinMI stories and help support local however you can. Whether it’s liking an artist’s page, sharing a feature about a small craft brewery, or purchasing a gift from your favorite store, you can help empower others in our community, even from a safe distance.

Tasting room changes, wine in cans coming from Northern Michigan estate vineyard

Shady Lane Cellars' patio

For years, Rick DeBlasio has talked about slowing down and interacting with Shady Lane Cellars guests to provide them with a moment-in-time memory that they’ll treasure for years.

In an unusual twist, the COVID-19 pandemic might have set the stage to do just that.

“The safety protocols and social distancing will, of course, make a visit to the tasting room a different experience,” said DeBlasio, the general manager of the destination winery just outside of Traverse City on the Leelanau Peninsula.

“But it doesn’t mean that it will be less engaging. In fact, it will probably be more intentional because there will be more time to talk to people about our wines and the passion that our team puts into making them.”

Shady Lane has shifted to outdoor tableside ordering, allowing guests to sample from tasting flights as well as wine-by-the-glass or bottle service. The choose-as-you-go and ordering from the bar method traditionally featured had to be reassessed for safety procedures, DeBlasio said.

What remains the same, DeBlasio said, is the dedication to world-class wine that is complemented by sweeping panoramic views from a 32-foot covered patio that overlooks the estate’s rolling hills and its 52-acre vineyard.

The expansive outdoor space negates capacity issues that other wineries will experience due to safety measures. Shady Lane Cellars’ staff will be able to distance tables and open up the traffic patterns for guests. Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are permitted. Groups are limited to six people per table, based on state safety guidelines.

“Everything we’ve done is with the health of our staff and our guests in mind,” DeBlasio said, noting staff will undergo health screening each day and they will wear masks. Hand sanitizers have been placed throughout the tasting room, plexiglass screens have been installed and signs are in place to establish smooth flow for guests.

“We’re all in this together and we’re working toward having a great summer we can all enjoy,” he said.

While the winery could have opened before Memorial Day, Shady Lane Cellars delayed its summer debut until June 1 to provide training for staff and to make sure they could provide an environment to experience the wine and learn from people who are closest to it.

The response from the first weeks has been tremendous, DeBlasio said.

“There’s an atmosphere that still promotes everything we desire, which is an encounter that is second-to-none and something that leaves you wanting to come back for more,” he said.

Cans and summer plans announcements

The spring season wasn’t all about COVID-19 reaction as Shady Lane Cellars staff was busy behind the scenes in anticipation of the exciting launch of the winery’s first line of wine in cans under the new “Brio by Shady Lane Cellars” label. The name springs from the Italian word that means to live life or to perform a task with vivacity.

The cans, which will be available only at the tasting room beginning June 15 and elsewhere as distribution plans are finalized, will feature a still rosé, the sparkling white “Vibes,” and a hard cider. Each can will be a vessel for 375mL, equal to 1/2 half bottle of wine.

“This is really exciting for us because we’ve wanted to do something fun and a little whimsical,” DeBlasio said. “Cans are really coming on, and we have known that people wanted an easier way to take us outdoors when they go camping, hiking, biking or on the water somewhere.”

The first hosted event

Shady Lanes Cellars has embraced social distancing on the patio, and will now make an event out of the new normal with its “Wine Social….Distancing” gathering from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 27 at the tasting room.

The plan calls for a perfect weather as well as great local wine and food pairings. There will be socially distanced wine and food stations from local providers set up across the outdoor patio. Reservations are required and admission is $25. There will be $5 glass pours of non-reserve wines available. Call 231-947-8865 or email Tyler Parks at to guarantee access.

Annual shrimp boil planning continues

The tradition of organizing Shady Lane’s low country shrimp boil is also underway, with a 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. July 25 date on the calendar and live music from Holly Keller highlighting the event that is all about friends, family and fun. The reservation-only event is $30 for adults, $15 for minors and includes:

  • Hors d’oeurves served at 5:00pm
  • Dinner served at 6:30 pm; Shrimp boiled with fresh corn, onions, potatoes, and sausage
  • 1 complimentary glass of Shady Lane Cellars wine for guests over the age of 21

Call 231-947-8865 or email Tyler Parks at to secure your ticket today.

Visit Shady Lane Cellars website to learn more about Northern Michigan’s leading estate vineyard.

Safe to golf 18 during COVID-19? It is with these precautions taken in Traverse City

Six feet? That’s almost a gimme in the vast expanse of a golf course. On the verdant links of the Traverse City area, space is measured in yards – hundreds and thousands of yards. Six feet of social distancing isn’t a problem.

That’s why golf is emerging as one of the more popular ways to get outside and enjoy summer amid the ongoing precautions of the COVID-19 pandemic. With many summer festivals and events cancelled to mitigate spread of the coronavirus, golf’s open spaces make it one travel activity that’s a natural, safe match for social distancing guidelines.

“The resort grounds cover nearly 5,000 acres and the four golf courses alone stretch over 27,000 yards,” said Chris Hale, vice president of sales and marketing at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire, home to four championship golf courses including The Legend, designed by Arnold Palmer, and Cedar River, which ranked 7th on Golf Advisor’s recent list of the 25 best designed courses in the country.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa's The Bear golf course

The Bear is one of three championship golf courses at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa alongside The Wolverine and Spruce Run. The courses are taking special safety measures this year to protect golfers and staff from COVID-19.

“Whether on cart or walking, playing a round of golf provides fresh air, camaraderie and time in some of the most beautiful landscapes in Michigan.”

Just as Traverse City is home to incredible natural beauty from the rolling hills of Old Mission Peninsula to the sloping sand of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the area is also home to more than two dozen of Michigan’s finest golf courses including several that bear the stamp of the game’s greatest legends.

With Michigan’s stay-at-home order lifted and the weather downstate getting hot and humid, teeing it up in the coastal hills around Grand Traverse Bay can be a cool, refreshing and safe experience. So, if you’ve never played The Legend at Shanty Creek or the Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, this summer is a great time to get out and cross those fabled courses off your golfing bucket list.

And those are just two of the championship golf courses in the Traverse City area. Here are six of the others…


While the golf courses of the Traverse City area are still the same beautiful places to spend a few hours, part of the experience this summer will be different. Many courses are taking additional precautions to minimize any health risks for golfers and staff.

The Legend golf course at Shanty Creek

The Legend is one of four championship golf courses at Shanty Creek Resort including Cedar River, Schuss Mountain and the Summit. Among the COVID-19 precautions being taken at Shanty Creek’s courses are modified cups that allow golfers to retrieve their ball without reaching their hand down into the hole. The courses also have removed rakes from sand bunkers and are asking golfers to smooth the sand after playing out of it.

For example, in many cases indoor spaces such as pro shops now have limited capacity and dining areas have appropriate spacing between tables. Practice areas also have additional spacing between hitting stations to maintain proper social distancing. On the course, rakes have been removed from sand traps and a variety of modified cups and mechanisms are being used so players don’t have to touch the flagsticks or reach their hand into the holes.

Hand sanitizer is being made available before and after play and golf carts are being completely sanitized before and after use. In some cases, courses that previously required use of a golf cart now are allowing players to walk.

Here’s a list of the Play Safe measures at Shanty Creek, for example. If you have questions about precautions being taken at a particular course, please contact the course directly.

Extra safety measures Grand Traverse Resort golf courses

The maintenance crew at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa created a device that lets golfers retrieve their ball from the cup by lifting a metal lever with their putter head. That way there’s no need to touch the flagstick or put your hand into the hole.

“Golf in the U.S. is typically played in foursomes, so it is a very small group and very easy to keep a proper distance away from others throughout the round,” said Tom McGee, director of golf operations at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. “Golfers are able to experience some exercise, fresh air and enjoy the camaraderie and great golf conditions we have.

“It’s a great spot to be up here in Traverse City where we have things opening up.”