Imagine the ecru hullabaloo, the farrago of fallows, the mahogany mélange, the hodgepodge of browns and beiges that have become the generic aesthetic for coffeehouses on every street corner. Beyond the typical, hidden far north in Petoskey off the coast of the great Lake Michigan, lies Roast & Toast Café, a beacon for latte loungers, jittery academics, caffeine cravers, and everyone in between.
When I asked general manager Ben Walker what separates Roast & Toast from chain coffee shops he immediately replies, “right off the bat, the color. The atmosphere is different.”
Walker is not exaggerating. Roast & Toast boasts walls painted the colors of Easter eggs and a threshold ingratiated with broken coffee mugs covering the entire color spectrum; brilliant blends of sky blue and chartreuse, mustard yellows and vibrant purples. An enormous blue neon sign is mounted over the coffee bar directing you to “order it here” with an arrow resembling an eternally luminescent lightning bolt.
Yet, Roast & Toast is not some youthful, newfangled endeavor. The café opened their doors 19 years ago, before the two-tonal takeover of trendy coffeehouses.
“We’ve seen, in the last ten years, four or five coffee shops come into Petoskey alone; downtown, come and go,” Walker tells me.
Roast & Toast’s transcendental tenure is not surprising, for they have a seemingly endless beverage and food menu, a rich history of donating to the local community, and a passion for preparing everything to the highest quality. Last year one of their employees, Joe Thompson, was awarded Northwest Michigan’s best barista award, and their resident roaster, Chucky, has been awarded barista of the year by Traverse Magazine two years running.
“For someone in Petoskey to win something in Traverse City is pretty cool,” Walker says with a grin, adding with genuine humility, “Traverse City has a lot of really good coffee shops.”
All the more remarkable is that Chucky roasts directly in front of customers. A herculean machine, the color of ketchup and complemented with chrome, roasts the coffee beans in the midst of Roast & Toast’s patrons. Walker explains, “we get a lot of questions and we get plenty of opportunities to teach our guests a lot about the roasting process, and about the coffee process.” A couple stray green coffee beans linger across the floor, proof that the product is processed right here. I picked one up, having never seen one in its unroasted form. As I talked with Chucky, he seems to become part of the café’s aesthetic, a jovial chemist turning unrefined nature into your morning fix.
Roast & Toast will also be an important contributor to this year’s new weekly festival from June 22nd to August 17th called “Petoskey Rocks,” of which Walker is the chair. The Friday night festivals will include movies, music, and other events to encourage people to experience Petoskey in full.
As I leave, the earthy aroma of coffee clings to me, and I feel a newfound awareness; honestly awakened, my morning ritual seeming for the first time a pleasing beginning to my day, rather than a quotidian chore.