Sweetwaters Teams up with Robin Hills Farm
There's been a Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea in downtown Ann Arbor since 1993. Founded by University of Michigan alumni Lisa and Wei Bee, the company has, since then, added three more locations in Ann Arbor and one in Ypsilanti, offering organic and fair trade coffees, a wide selection of tea and sweets. But fresh produce? According to Lisa Bee, it’s a natural fit.
“All of our products, any kind of recipes, we try to keep it all natural and real,” she says. “We don’t use pre-made items or mixes. Whenever we look for products, we look for all-natural products.” They even bottle two of their own teas. “We kept to our own recipes,” she says. “Many of the bottlers didn’t want us to.”
Last spring, the downtown Sweetwaters hosted a produce tasting for Chelsea’s Robin Hills Farm. It was an opportunity to purchase greens and sign up for the start-up farm’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares.
Later in the season, customers who signed up for the shares were able to pick up their shares at Sweetwaters, with an opportunity to add some of the café’s products—such as tea, bread and pastry—to the mix.
The collaboration appealed to the café’s all-natural philosophy, as well as its customers. “It worked out real well,” Bee said. “There are definitely a few regulars that participated in it.”
Robin Hills Farm is co-owned by Roy Xu, a 36-year-old construction manager with two master’s degrees who emigrated from China five years ago and who has become a Sweetwaters franchisee.
“We met through a relative,” Bee says. The collaboration between the two businesses goes even further; Xu is a partner is GreenBright Design Build, which did the environmentally friendly buildout on his Sweetwaters café on Liberty in Ann Arbor.
The farm started up just last year. “Right now the CSA has only distributed vegetables,” says Mitzi Koors, Robin Hills’ vegetable farm manager. There were a few strawberries and raspberries; some lamb were also harvested and fish are in the early stages. For now, the farm supplements its CSA offerings with those of other local organic farms.
“Last year was a lot of building and testing out soil to see what we’re capable of,” Koors says. The land has never been conventionally farmed, and she is in the process of applying for organic certification. Last year only 25 full farm shares were available, but this year that will jump to 80. Distribution points could potentially expand to other Sweetwaters cafés.
Sweetwaters is one of two off-site pickup locations for Robin Hills’ farm shares. “To be honest, it’s ideal to have something in downtown Ann Arbor where people frequently stop,” Koors says. “The owners are people people, good on customer service. I was real glad Roy had that connection.”