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Historic Grand Rapids building transformed into veteran owned coffee shop

Posted By: mlive on November 13, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.


Coffee and espresso were flowing Monday morning inside the historic Veterans Memorial Park building as the nonprofit veterans group HAS HEART celebrated the opening of its new coffee shop. The coffee shop, a public-private partnership between the city of Grand Rapids, Has Heart and others, offers a selection of drinks and baked goods, and displays and sells art created by veterans. It’s designed to be a place where veterans can gather, share stories with one another and feel welcome.

“Many veterans come around down the street — they don’t want to be recognized, they don’t want to be heard, and sometimes It’s because they feel ashamed,” said Michael Hyacinthe, the co-founder and chairmen of HAS HEART. “Many deal with PTSD, traumatic brain injury. So we’re hoping that this space can be a place that’s welcoming, can be a place where they feel as if they can talk to someone.”

HAS HEART, which is based in Grand Rapids, was founded in 2010 and uses art, design and fashion to uplift and help veterans. The group has also hosted veteran-focused exhibits at Veterans Memorial Park during ArtPrize. Hyacinthe, who served in the Navy from 1997 to 2006, operates HAS HEART with his partner Tyler Way, 37, of Cascade Township.

The coffee shop, 22 Sheldon Ave. NE, has been years in the making. It’s been on the city’s radar since at least 2013, when a parks master plan called for updating the Veterans Memorial Park building to allow for a year-round cafe.

With HAS HEART’s involvement, the city and partners invested $916,000 in improvements to the building, which has been vacant for years except during ArtPrize, said David Marquardt, director of the city’s parks and recreation department. Now, with the improvements complete, the city hopes similar partnerships could take root at other city parks, he said.

“Part of our community parks and recreation master plan is to reimagine places and spaces like this in our parks system,” Marquardt said. “To have this one done as our first, housing a new business, we believe this is a really important step for us, a good example for us, for more to come within different park spaces across the city.”

Of the project’s $916,000 price tag, $500,000 came from the city of Grand Rapids, according to a news release. In addition, HAS HEART raised $250,000 for the project and the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority provided $166,000. In addition to the coffee shop, the building houses a public restroom that is open to customers and non-customers.

HAS HEART has signed a three-year lease agreement with the city for the building. Terms of the lease indicate HAS HEART will pay 12% of its gross monthly revenue or a minimum of $1,000 a month for the first year. Monthly payments would increase to $1,200 in year two and $1,350 in year three.

“This is just a beautiful building with so much historical significance, and seeing it come back to life has been such a joy,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said.

With the improvements, the interior walls of the historic building were demolished, and replaced with a bright, well-lit space hosting a coffee bar and two small seating areas. The restroom was also moved and brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hyacinthe’s Navy uniform is displayed on a wall, as are other photographs and veteran art.

Standing inside the cafe, Hyacinthe said opening the space has been a journey.

“We thought this through 10 years ago, and then COVID happened,” he said. “Then, the building is a historic building. so we’ve had to pivot and innovate and figure out things to make the building fit our goals and also maintain the integrity of the building.”

He likened the process to the challenges veterans face when transitioning to civilian life.

“There are challenges, there are barriers,” Hyacinthe said.” “But ultimately, if you surround yourself with the right people, the right community, you can overcome those challenges.”

In addition to coffee, the space will have resources and information available to help veterans connect with mental health and job placement services, he said. The coffee shop is open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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