HFC alumnus, instructor opens new coffeehouse in Howell
CAPTION: HFC alumnus and current welding instructor Kevin Ridge shows off the sign he forged out of iron for the new coffeehouse in Howell that he will open in 2019: Black Iron Coffee Roasters.
Around 25 years ago, in order to stay awake when watching a week’s worth of safety videos, HFC alumnus and welding instructor Kevin Ridge discovered coffee.
The taste was bitter and unpleasant, but it did the trick and kept Ridge awake.
“I’m late to the game. I started drinking coffee at 25,” said Ridge, of Novi, a 2000 HFC alumnus. “I couldn’t stand it. I thought, 'There has to be some way to make it taste better.' ”
Ridge researched coffee and began roasting his own beans at home. He experimented with coffee beans from around the world to develop his original homemade blends. At first, roasting was a hobby. He gave his coffee to friends and coworkers as gifts.
“I’ll ask my friends what kind of coffee they want, and they’ll say, ‘Whatever you’re roasting this week,’ ” said Ridge. “They’re willing to try different blends of coffee, and they’ll know I’ll take care of them.”
Getting into the coffee business was a grassroots effort. Ridge started selling bags of coffee, roasted by hand, at various farmers markets in the Tri-County area. He also makes custom blends for several businesses and sells them online.
“I began doing this three years ago. I wanted to do something on the side, unrelated to welding, so I bought a commercial roaster,” said Ridge, who has taught at HFC since 2000.
His coffee’s been a big hit with his colleagues and students, including Robert James, associate dean of the HFC School of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Professional Development. In fact, Ridge brings his own blends of coffee into his classroom for his students to enjoy.
“We had a good discussion about coffee, as I do roast my own beans, just a small batch at a time,” said James. “I found his coffee mild yet full-bodied and – most importantly – fresh. There is nothing like a cup of coffee made from beans roasted within a week or two.”
Black Iron Coffee Roasters
In early 2019, Ridge and Darcie, his wife of 24 years, plan to open Black Iron Coffee Roasters – the first brick-and-mortar store – at 119 W. Grand River Ave. in Howell. He will hand roast specialty coffees on-site. He personally forged the sign for the coffee shop out of iron.
In fact, keeping with the metallurgy aspect of his life, Ridge couldn’t help but name his house blend coffee – which contains notes of sugar cane, nuts, and fruits – Blend 26, after the atomic number of iron. His Cast Iron Espresso Blend is a dark roast with hints of chocolate and caramel. Wrought Iron Blend is his newest signature blend, featuring beans from Kenya and Papua New Guinea.
“There’s been an explosion of coffee shops all over the place, so we decided to start our own,” said Ridge.
Highlighting single-origin, specialty coffees
According to Ridge, Black Iron will highlight single-origin, specialty coffees from, for example, Costa Rica for several weeks. Then they'll switch to a coffee from Ethiopia or another country for another several weeks. He plans to feature coffees from “places you might not think of when it comes to coffee.”
His wife will run the day-to-day operations of the shop, and they plan to hire a manager and other employees. Down the line, when Black Iron is on solid ground, they plan to introduce a menu featuring soups and sandwiches, as well as cookies – all made on-site. Black Iron will also feature live music.
“Our goal right now is to just open the coffeehouse,” said Ridge. “The community has been very welcoming. Many people are hoping it will do well.”
That doesn’t mean Ridge has any plans to quit teaching at HFC.
“Why would I? I love teaching at HFC,” said Ridge. “I love having the ability to teach hands-on skills and see people excel in those skills, then go on and get good jobs.”
To learn more about the new coffee shop or to order merchandise, visit www.blackironcoffee.com. Merchandise currently available includes custom iron pour-over stands, mugs, T-shirts and more.