Small Biz Saturday: Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Plymouth Green keeps community caffeinated

Cafe owner Kristen Jackson talks about the cafe’s mobile app, future changes

The front of the cafe from inside. (James Bee)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Located in the Plymouth-Green Crossings Shopping Center, Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Plymouth Green usually has a hoard of commuters passing through its doors fueling up for the day.

The cafe’s tables are typically full of students studying together or small groups of friends chatting over cups of coffee. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the space is empty.

With social distancing restrictions in place, the Sweetwaters location, owned by Kristen Jackson, has been quickly adapting to make sure that its customers can still get their coffee fix.

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Jackson took over the franchise at the end of 2018, a year after the franchise location closed due to road construction.

She said the cafe was just beginning to see its customers come back when the pandemic started.

“We have a very small, loyal base that live around our area that we’re seeing -- so we’re very grateful for them, “ said Jackson.

The Sweetwaters location is popular among commuters and students as a place to study or work. (James Bee)

But with a customer base of mostly professional commuters and students, who are either working from home or have moved away, Jackson said business hasn’t even been half of what it used to.

The franchise location even closed for a few weeks in April but reopened in May to offer curbside and pick-up coffee services. It has fewer employees working and Jackson said she hasn’t been able to offer the baked goods that she usually orders from Crust, a baking company in Fenton.

Nevertheless, the cafe has tried to keep itself busy by offering catering orders for customers to send to different frontline workers.

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“We’ve had a lot of contributions from the community and businesses that don’t really know how to spend their money,” said Jackson. By buying the catering options, community members are showing support to frontline workers while also helping her business.

Starting in March, the cafe was fulfilling at least one order per day for several weeks. Orders have been sent to frontline workers at St. Joseph Hospital, Michigan Medicine and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, as well as to grocery workers and postal workers.

The cafe also offers food, beans and other treats. (James Bee)

To respond to the pandemic, Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Plymouth Green also launched its mobile ordering application. Coffee fans can order their favorite drinks through the app, manage their loyalty points and either pick up orders in the cafe or ask for curbside service.

The app is available for Apple and Android phones.

“We’re trying to get the word out too that that [the app] exists because it’s a convenient way for people to not have to come into the store if they don’t want to, but still support us,” said Jackson.

While it’s hard to anticipate what the future needs of the cafe and of her customers will be, Jackson said that the Sweetwaters location plans to utilize its large outdoor patio space and indoor seating.

“We’re working on how we’re going to rearrange the seating,” Jackson said. ”Luckily, nothing is bolted down to the ground or anything, and they’re all moveable, but we’re not sure how we’re going to store like half of our tables and chairs.”

Restaurants, bars and cafes in Michigan will be able to reopen June 8 but they are only allowed to operate at 50% of their normal capacity.

Jackson said that seating will be at least six feet apart and that the cafe will encourage customers to use its outdoor seating as much as possible.

Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Plymouth Green usually hosts several events each month within its space.

The cafe has been offering virtual events through Facebook, which Jackson anticipates will continue in the future as she isn’t sure how the cafe will be able to host in-person events.

Check out the Facebook page for promotions, announcements and changes to the cafe.

Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Plymouth Green is at 3393 Plymouth Rd.

A customer receiving a drink at Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Plymouth Green. (James Bee)

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.