Michigan is full of amazing small businesses serving their local communities. Fortress Coffee in Jackson Michigan is a local small-batch coffee roasting company with a brick-and-mortar cafe in the heart of downtown Jackson.
Founded by husband and wife team, Thomas and Margaret Hess, Fortress Coffee seeks to provide only the freshest roasted whole bean coffee, which is carefully crafted and roasted in small batches to guarantee freshness.
Freshly Roasted Beans on My Doorstep
March 2020 brought many changes to life as we knew it. One of those changes was the sudden inability to go to my favorite local coffee shop to enjoy a latte with a friend or spend an afternoon working while sipping my favorite drinks.
A fan of the Fortress Coffee I’d been accustomed to enjoying at Fortress Cafe, I decided to order some freshly roasted beans from their website. Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to pick up my order at the cafe due to its temporary closure, I assumed I’d either have to get it shipped or arrange for pickup.
So when I woke up the next morning to a box of freshly roasted coffee beans on my doorstep, I was beyond impressed. Customer service that includes door-to-door delivery within a three-zip-code radius is the cherry on top of having continued access to some of my favorite coffee!*
An Interview with Fortress Coffee
We recently had the opportunity to connect with Thomas and Margaret to learn more about their Michigan-based coffee roasting business…
Awesome Mitten (AM): Where did the idea for a coffee roasting company come from?
Thomas Hess (TH): I was drawn to the coffee industry because I’m a coffee addict and have been drinking multiple cups of coffee each day since I was in high school. I’ve also always wanted to own my own business and coffee seemed like the best industry since I researched the industry for fun.
Thomas is the brains behind the business & the one whose passion sparked this whole thing. He’s often up late roasting away so that you can enjoy delicious, FRESH coffee. Margaret is all things related to design, social media, marketing, support staff, & proud wife. What started out as an obsession & passion for coffee turned into a little side hustle that we can’t get enough of.
AM: What is your company’s mission?
Margaret Hess (MH): Our mission is to provide the freshest possible whole bean coffee. Each batch is carefully crafted and roasted to order. Our coffee is for regular people who like good coffee. We are all about taking a simple, responsible, and caring approach to coffee.
We’re a husband & wife team who have an obsession with specialty coffee & providing good coffee to regular people. We ensure that each batch of coffee is roasted to order for maximum freshness & superior taste. We’re all about taking a simple, responsible, & caring approach to coffee.
AM: How long have you been open and where do you sell your products?
MH: Thomas & I have been roasting and selling our coffee online for about 5 years, and our brick and mortar cafe, Fortress Cafe, has been open since December of 2018. The majority of our customer base is located in Michigan, especially for the brick & mortar location of the cafe, but we actually ship our coffee all over the U.S. – we have customers in Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, and Ohio!
AM: What is your favorite part about owning/operating a coffee roasting business in Michigan?
TH: Getting paid to learn about coffee.
As a kid I used to tell people, “When I grow up I want to be a chef.” I liked cooking — the idea of taking items that were not tasteful individually then making them collectively tasteful was very fulfilling for me. To be honest, I liked to eat… a lot. However, as I grew older I started to lean more towards a career path involving chemistry. Like cooking, the idea of making changes to create the desired outcome seemed like a fun and challenging game to me. As I visited various companies who hired chemists and chemical engineers, I realized the business and operation side behind the chemistry is really where I wanted to be. Roasting coffee is a perfect blend of all three. We started this home based business where I create edible chemistry and I am loving every second of this trifecta.
AM: How many employees do you have?
MH: It’s just Thomas & I on the roasting side of the operation. Including owners, we have about 7 employees at any given time. We have a great team of baristas and are so grateful for them!
AM: What service(s) or product(s) do you offer? Which is your favorite?
TH: We roast a variety of coffee under the Fortress label but also we do some coffee for other businesses under their own brand. I love the coffees under our own label because we have hand-selected all the origins for their taste and quality.
We offer various origins and blends of coffee for your drinking pleasure. All of the coffee we sell is small batch, handcrafted, and roasted to order. Listed on each bag is the specific roast date allowing you know exactly when your coffee was roasted.
AM: Which of your products/services do customers/guests most often talk about as being their favorite?
MH: Our customers love our Brazil Santos and Guatemala Antigua whole bean coffee. At the cafe, our Fortress Latte is definitely a favorite… it’s a honey & cinnamon latte and super delicious!
AM: What made you choose to operate your business in Michigan?
MH: Since we live in Michigan, it made sense for us to operate primarily in Michigan. We love the small business community & coffee culture here in Michigan, there is so much room for opportunity here!
AM: What is unique about your business? What sets it apart from other similar businesses?
TH: We only do roast to order coffee, so our coffee is always fresh. We also do private labeling on a smaller scale than other coffee roasters which appeals to small shops or events.
Fortress Coffee is a small batch roaster providing the freshest possible whole bean coffee. Each batch is carefully crafted and roasted to order.
AM: How does your company invest/engage in your local community? How is operating a business in Michigan unique/special?
MH: The cafe is right in the heart of downtown Jackson, which we love. Downtown is starting to revitalize and there are so many fun things happening! We love being at the center of it all and try to get involved whenever possible. Since the cafe is located within a co-working space, we get to meet lots of interesting people – many of whom are working on cool projects.
For our local community, we offer cafe pickup or local porch drop off when ordering whole bean coffee online. It’s a way we feel we can remove barriers for people who would like to try our coffee, especially now in a time where people are going out less.
AM: Describe your business in just three words.
TH: Simply. Good. Coffee. 🙂
Why drink coffee that was roasted who-knows-where and sat on a shelf for who-knows-how-long when you can have all the freshness and traceability that you get from Fortress Coffee?
Locally Roasted in Jackson Michigan
The team at Awesome Mitten has had the opportunity to enjoy freshly-roasted Fortress Coffee and spend time at its brick and mortar cafe, and we have to say that we’re all big fans. The cafe exclusively serves Fortress Coffee and offers breakfast and lunch options including grab-and-go health foods like protein shakes, smoothies, breakfast bowls, baked oatmeal, and chicken salad.
Personally, I try to stop in at least once a week for a Fortress Latte and some granola bites, and I try not to ever be without a bag of freshly roasted Fortress Coffee (I prefer the Peru blend or the Swiss Water Decaf).