Let’s take a quick trip down bad memory lane. By late 2010, the U.S. economy was still reeling from the Great Recession of 2007-8, with unemployment high, job-creation sluggish and recovery expectations largely dashed. The reverberations were even more pronounced in Southeast Michigan, where a number of economic forces over the past decades had people thinking about one thing: JOBS!
Considering this climate, former marketing professional and Spanish instructor Teresa Pilarz’s jump to open a brand new roastery and coffee shop was a huge one. Pilarz opened Espresso Elevado, a moderately sized, community-focused shop that also happens to have a serious focus on coffee quality, something that had been largely absent from the Detroit suburb Plymouth and the surrounding area.
Now, four years in with a staff of 12, Pilarz continues to be heavily involved in professional development, while refining the coffee program under slogan of CAUSE: Connected, Artistic, Unconventional, Sustainable, and Elevated. Espresso Elevado was recently named by Southeast Michigan’s EdibleWOW Magazine as the favorite artisan beverage. Hearing this news, we recently caught up with Pilarz and talk more about the development and future of Espresso Elevado.
What about specialty coffee drew you in?
Coffee first sparked my interest when I worked as a barista in the mid 90s, but it wasn’t until about 15 years later that I became determined to work in the industry as a career. I attended an SCAA craft roasting workshop in 2008 and started roasting at home. Aside from just appreciating the complexity of coffee, I saw it as an outlet for my creativity, as well as my determination to build my own business.
For our readers who aren’t familiar with Southeast Michigan, can you describe Plymouth? What has the specialty coffee scene been like there and how do you see Espresso Elevado fitting in?
Plymouth is the perfect suburban hometown! I grew up here, and as I’ve watched the town grow and develop, I just knew it would embrace a quality-focused shop like ours. Of course, it’s always unnerving when you start putting money into any business because there are never any guarantees, and Michigan’s economy was pretty sluggish when we opened. We roast all our own beans, only hand-pour our brews, and our espresso drinks are hand-crafted with natural ingredients and syrups made in-house.
Especially when we opened almost 4 years ago, we had to demonstrate the value of this to people. The specialty coffee scene in SE Michigan is slowly growing and there are several nice shops, each with their own niche.
It seems to me that four years is entering “established” territory in any retail endeavor. Can you talk about your relationship to the community and share a couple of the lessons you’ve learned in the past four years?
Although we have several years of experience now, I don’t like to approach it as being “established.” Running a small business is tough, and it takes tireless effort, attention, and innovation. That said, I’m convinced that we have the best customers and staff imaginable, not just because they are wonderful people, but because they’ve made us into a destination by sharing what we do with other people. It’s made me realize that we are really in the business of building relationships in the community. If our coffee was amazing but we treated everyone poorly, nobody would return.
Can you describe EE’s approach to roasting? What are you hoping to achieve with each batch?
Our approach to roasting has always been to focus squarely in the middle, spanning light to medium dark roasts and never extending beyond very early second crack. We do our best to discover and highlight what is special about each bean, whether it be flavor notes, acidity, body and/or sweetness.
Can you share where you get your green coffee from?
That has evolved over the years, but we have always worked with importing partners that have an ample selection of fair trade and organic beans. We don’t have a large space, so we typically need to get quite a variety on one pallet. I usually consolidate with a few different importers on the east coast.
What kind of experience do you and your staff hope to create for each customer? And how big a part does coffee play in that?
It is our intention to provide an elevated level of service with the goal of building community around our shop environment. And, of course, we want them to come away a coffee experience unlike any other in the area. We accomplish that by experimenting a lot and crafting unique and original special house drinks that are not easily duplicated.
Can we expect shop number two at some point? What else lies in store for Espresso Elevado?
I’m still working on refining my vision for the future of Espresso Elevado but it’s not likely to include another retail shop. My background is in marketing and teaching; in another life, I was a Spanish instructor. Now I’m a certified SCAA Instructor. Ideally, all of these elements will come together as we continue to grow.