If you brew it, they will come

Published 8:58 am Saturday, September 18, 2010

Molly Thornton and her family have enjoyed a strong outpouring of community support in the first month of their new business, Union Coffee House in Buchanan. Photo by Jessica Sieff



Inside Union Coffee House, the newest business to open up shop in downtown Buchanan, the music is soft, the room filled with sunlight and the coffee beans fulfill their destiny as a line forms at the counter.

It’s not too bad a setting for the coffee house’s one-month anniversary.

“It’s been awesome,” said Molly Thornton, who along with her parents, brother and sisters has put forth ever effort into making this family business a successful one.

“We’ve done bigger business than I ever thought in one month,” she said.

Union Coffee House opened officially on Aug. 12, just one day after Thornton and her family had finished renovations on the space where they set up shop on the corner of Front and Main streets in Buchanan.

With 14 years experience in the restaurant business, including seven years of management, Thornton was toying with the idea of running her own business.

“I decided maybe three years ago that I did want to own my own business,” she said. “I thought that Buchanan needed variety and an alternative to bar food, healthy eating and a place to relax.”

She spent plenty of time researching, visiting anywhere from eight to nine coffee houses each month for inspiration and developing her own ideas.

“I had a lot of ideas on how I wanted it to go that were just based on my personal preferences,” she said.

The idea had become a shared one by her family. Her parents, Matt and Kathy, jumped on board and soon the Thorntons were looking for a space.

Soon after, the family met up with the owners of the Front Street property, and the family was hard at work.

“We did pretty much all of (the renovations),” Thornton said.

That meant pulling up years worth of covering to expose the original flooring, light installation and providing a fresh coat of paint to the ceiling as well as building windowsills, the front counter, bathrooms, a mop closet and the kitchen space itself.

Thornton said her brother and sisters have also been a big help with overall operations, photos and online presence.

They moved into the space in January, completed renovations Aug. 11 and opened the next day.

Union Coffee House offers everything from free trade, organic brewed coffee, espressos and lattes to french press pots, specialty teas and smoothies.

The food menu is one that Thornton said she gave considerable thought and incorporated a focus on fresh, local produce.

Menu items include deli style sandwiches such as a turkey gouda on a variety of bread including multi-grain, dark rye, ciabatta or sourdough, pressed sandwiches, a garlic herb hummus and tabouli plate, black bean and avocado bread and fresh salads.

“I wanted to stand apart from any other business without creating competition for them either,” Thornton said.

Indeed it seems she’s not only busy brewing coffee but creating a cooperative business community as well.

Union Coffee House utilizes several local suppliers, including Breadsmith, Lee’s Greenhouse, Blue Star Produce, Twin Maple Orchards and the Buchanan Farmers’ Market.

Baked items offered at the coffee house are supplied by Fernwood Botanical Gardens and even the aprons are locally made.

In addition, her free trade organic coffee is locally grown.

“I wanted to definitely do a fair trade, Michigan-roasted coffee bean,” Thornton said. “To make sure we’re supporting the Michigan economy and the money goes back to where the coffee came from.”

As first months go, Thornton seems happy and has high hopes for the business’ future. The coffee house will hold an event as a live music venue at the end of October. She hopes to incorporate more opportunities to work with local organizations such as the Buchanan Community Schools district.

So far, Thronton said customers are a good mix of local and visitors to Buchanan, which she believes is becoming more of a cultural community. And that makes her happy as she said “it’s really important to us that we’re not a Chicago-themed business and that we stay alive through the winter.

“Keep the momentum going” is the focus now, she said.

Union Coffee House is located at 15 East Front St., Buchanan. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday and Monday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. It can be reached at (269) 409-7004. Find them on Facebook or