Tag Archives: coffee shop

Life and Doughnuts in Durand

Chris - Itchi-Bon Bakery - Closeup“Would you like some coffee?” was the first thing Chris said to me as I entered her bakery. Maybe she asked this of everyone, or perhaps she saw a chilled, haggard-looking guy in a bike helmet and made a logical conclusion.

Count on my support for anything that locks up teenagers for the night.

Count on my support for anything that locks up teenagers for the night.

Day two of my weekend trip started pleasantly with a short ride from Fenton to Linden, where a nice lady was collecting donations to support a pre-graduation day lock-in for the high school seniors. The next stop was Durand, about fifteen miles away, on what turned out to be mostly dirt roads (mud, ruts, and loose gravel – what’s not to like?), while the morning grew steadily grayer and colder. By the time Durand’s signature railroad depot came into view, my need for coffee and a warm place to drink it would have been evident to Stevie Wonder.

Durand - Itchi-Bon Bakery

Chris and her husband Barry have owned the Itchi-Bon (“number one”) Bakery for 26 years, purchasing it just before they got married. Of the original five Itchi-Bons, which the original owner sold off separately, theirs was the only one left. I’d say the attention they pay to their customers is part of the reason why they’ve lasted. Several people came in while I was there, and Chris spent time chatting with all of them, without neglecting a certain cyclist visiting for the first time.

The continuity came with tradeoffs. Noticing the U-M sweatshirt Chris wore, naturally I asked her if she went there. “Oh, no,” she said. “I never went to college. I’ve never left Durand.” There was no regret in her voice. It was just the way things worked out.

Durand DepotTrains are what built Durand, and they remain a big deal today. Their big annual event, Railroad Days, was coming up the following weekend. The website that describes the festival says, “Talk at the coffee shops and pubs still center around trains,” and it was certainly true that morning. I met a lady helping organize the first-ever Railroad Days 5K run, and we “talked some shop” for a bit. (I’m still waiting to hear from her how it went.)

The coffee at Itchi-Bon is run-of-the-mill stuff (sorry, Chris) but it was hot, and served in a thick mug like you’d see in the coffee shops of fifty years ago. No fancy scones or croissants either, but a wide variety of doughnuts at 75 cents each, or day-old at 40 cents My guess is this is the way Durand likes it, and it was actually very refreshing. I hope nobody from Starbucks is reading this and discovering that there’s a town in America without one.

Chris - Itchi-Bon Bakery 2As for doughnuts, I don’t normally eat them because these days they are mostly air, and have about as much flavor as the bag. Not these. Chris pointed to one with a deep pink color – a “red velvet” doughnut. “We don’t usually get these,” she said. Well, naturally I had to have it, then. (*) It was both substantial and delicious. So I had another. There were seventy miles left to go, after all.

Then it was time to move on. Chris popped her head outside as I got back on my bike.

“Come back any time,” she said, cheerily. “I’ll be here every day for the rest of my life.”

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(*) Scarcity and exclusivity are time-honored marketing techniques. I knew this, but it still worked.

The Relentless Pursuit of (Coffee) Perfection

ONE OF MY PERENNIAL FANTASIES is to leave the demands of the day job, retire to a small town, and open a coffee shop. I’d carry only premium organic, fair-trade, free-range coffee (hand-harvested to classical music) and ephemeral pastries that would bring in people from several neighboring states. And while my dedicated, well-paid staff served the crowd of regulars, I’d sit at a corner table sipping a cappuccino and working on my next highly anticipated novel.

Remember, I said this was a fantasy. (I get the feeling there’s a bit more involved in running such a place.)

Day 1 - Ann Arbor to Fenton (click to enlarge)

Day 1 – Ann Arbor to Fenton (click to enlarge)

For the moment, let’s say I’m in an “exploratory phase” while I figure out what my ideal coffee shop / bakery would be, and where I’d want to open it. Fortunately, my weekend-long bike trips through small towns provide the perfect opportunity for such research. And last weekend I completed the first such trip of 2013, covering roughly 180 miles over Friday and Saturday.

The good news is that the local coffee shop has apparently survived the onslaught of Starbucks (*) and its hoard of imitators. In just about every town I’ve visited over the past two years, there has been a locally owned and operated coffee shop. (And in my hometown of Ann Arbor, it seems another one opens every week. How am I supposed to keep up?)

Anyhow, here’s a sampling of the places I visited on last weekend’s bike trip.

Plymouth – Espresso Elevado

Espresso Elevado - Lemon Ginger Scone and LatteI’ve been to Plymouth a few times, mainly as a 10K pacer for the Kona series of races, but hadn’t biked there before. The ride there was among the most pleasant segments of the entire trip. Normally I stop at The Coffee Bean, where they have good pastries and handmade sweet or savory crepes – perfect recovery food after a race. Now they have competition for my business.

Espresso Elevado 2 - Theresa and JanessaTheresa (right) is the owner of Espresso Elevado, located on Main Street just south of KelloggPark, which is where the races are held. I met her at a visit to the Mindo Chocolate facility in Dexter (subject of a future post). She insists on using only premium, fair-trade coffee, and my latte was excellent, as was the lemon-ginger scone. I’ll be back.

Clarkston – Village Bake Shop

Clarkston - Good M&M BarsClarkston (official name: City of the Village of Clarkston) bills itself as, “historic charm in the heart of Oakland County” with “an air of timeless elegance” and I enjoyed my brief stop there, walking down the main street and checking out a few of the shops. Naturally, the Village Bake Shop was among them.

Clarkston - Alyssa at Bake Shop 2I asked Alyssa (pictured here) how she liked living there. “Well, I’ve never lived anywhere else,” she said, “so I have nothing to compare it to.” But she just completed her freshman year at U-M and admitted to loving Ann Arbor, which showed her obvious intelligence and good judgment. The coffee was ordinary and weak, I’m sorry to say, but the M&M bar was worth the stop and even a repeat visit.

Howell – Uptown Coffeehouse

Howell’s downtown has the look and feel of smaller towns, but it’s far less “sleepy” being on Grand River Avenue. Uptown Coffeehouse is on the primo corner in the center of the downtown, and is unabashedly upscale in appearance. Fortunately, its coffee and pastries live up to the expectations thus created.

Last October after the Headless Horseman 5K.

Last October after the Headless Horseman 5K.

This place consistently makes one of the best cappuccinos I have ever had, so it’s become a required stop whenever I’m in Howell. Given that I’ve been either wet and muddy from a rainy bike ride, or sweaty from a local race, I wonder if they’re happy about that. They haven’t kicked me out yet, at least.

Next up: Two places with owners that show some pretty incredible dedication to what they do.

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(*) I have very mixed feelings about Starbucks. I don’t go there anymore – they over-roast their beans. But as a shareholder, I appreciate their contribution to my retirement funds.

Have You Seen This Man? And other Miscellany

Thomas Jefferson - 2 Dollar BillJUST WONDERING IF YOU’VE SEEN THIS GUY RECENTLY. I realize that old T.J. doesn’t ‘circulate’ much these days, but I’m doing my best to keep him visible. The $2 bill is my tip of choice at coffee shops and other such places. I’ve been doing it for years as a sort of schtick, and this year I added the following touch:

Back of 2 Dollar Bill

Why not a little self-promotion with my latte? Anyway, I was at the bank recently reloading my stash, and I got one that was already stamped – the first time that has happened. But no one has yet emailed me or left a comment saying they got one, so I have no idea where it’s been between when I spent it and when I got it back. So if you do happen across one of these, please drop me a line. I know this site isn’t exactly WheresGeorge.com, but it would still be fun to find out that someone got a stamped bill and checked out my blog as a result. So speak up, people!

I should also update everyone on how my effort for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) turned out. So here you go:

NaNoWriMo 2012 Winner Certificate

Yep, I got to the 50,000 word mark with a day to spare. I’ve since taken a brief hiatus from writing it, with training for 5K races and upcoming Aikido test taking priority, but I’ll be back to it shortly. Last weekend I went to a followup session called, “You’ve Written a Novel – Now What?” which featured a local writer and a small press publisher explaining the best way to market your work and what kinds of things will annoy an editor or otherwise make him stop reading. Very useful information, given that I’m writing the Great Interstellar Novel!

DurianFinally, an adventure in food to relate. The day before my 51st birthday, I decided to sneak in one final thing I’d never done before, and settled on attempting to eat durian. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this exotic and odiferous Asian fruit, let’s just say that the first person to eat one must have been either very, very brave, or five minutes away from starving to death. Today it is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, dead-skunk like aroma notwithstanding.

But where to find one? Surprisingly, it isn’t always available at Meijer. However, living in East San Francisco (a.k.a. Ann Arbor) has its advantages, and I procured one at a local Asian grocery store – the kind where nobody in the place speaks English. (Talk about a “fish out of water” feeling.) As I stood in line with the spiky football I was pretty sure that a couple of people were snickering, but it was in Chinese, so I have no idea who or what they may have been laughing at. Probably me, though.

Me contemplating eating a durian

Should I, or shouldn’t I? I have to, I’m wearing the magic sweatshirt.

Anyway, I got it home, and after getting on the Internet to find out how to open it, I managed to get a couple of spoonfuls down. So how was it?

Me eating a durian

Okay, mission accomplished. But now the problem is I have most of the fruit left. What can I do with it? Sure can’t compost it, and the garbage man has his standards. There are a number of durian recipes on the Internet, however, including durian cheesecake and durian ice cream. Dare I try them? If I do, and manage to keep the HazMat team away, I’ll let you know.