ANN ARBOR, MI — When business closure mandates were first passed down in March 2020, Chelsea Hohn, manager of Cahoot’s Café, expected them to only last a week, maybe two. The café had just opened in January.
More than a year later, the café, located on East Huron Street in Ann Arbor, is still on “COVID hours,” asking people to mask regardless of vaccination status and seating roughly one-fifth of its availability.
“We’ve been running the café in COVID-times more than normal times,” Hohn said.
Even as bars and restaurants drop mask mandates and vaccination numbers inch upward, some coffee shops have been slow to completely lift regulations, with many across Michigan still restricting shop hours and continuing to implement safety precautions.
Some shops — like the café inside of Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor and The Good Bean Café in Flint— still have not made plans to reopen.
Ken VanWagoner, owner of The Good Bean Café, said he closed shop two hours early on March 13, 2020. The shop has stayed closed since then.
Other coffee shops, like Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s Next Door Café, have fewer restrictions. The Next Door Café has allowed customers to bring in their own to-go cups, are at full capacity seating and have no mask policy for customers, although unvaccinated staff are required to wear a mask. The shop is also still on restricted hours, which is something Jennifer Hall, a spokesperson for Zingerman’s, said will most likely be a permanent change.
Starbucks on Main Street in Ann Arbor has similar policies, allowing customers to bring to-go cups and allowing limited seating. Masking is optional for both vaccinated employees and customers. The store also plans to keep its reduced hours
Although masking policies at each Ann Arbor Sweetwaters location are up to the discretion of each location’s owner, according to a Sweetwaters spokesperson, the company has suspended use of reusable cups. The chain returned to 100 percent capacity on July 2.
Hohn said being an in-person employee during the height of the pandemic was like being on “totally different planets” from those working at home. Cahoot’s reopened in June 2020 to serve people from a bar cart in its door, a noisy choice due to the proximity of the café to the road.
“It was just screaming at people all last summer: ‘What kind of milk do you want?’” she said.
Hohn, who was getting tested every week for COVID-19, said making decisions at the store consumed a lot of her energy as she stressed over how many times they should sanitize things, where people stood, if it was okay to touch drink lids and other safety precautions.
“It’s no longer just managing a coffee shop,” she said. “You’re literally trying not to kill people’s grandmas.”
Elsewhere in Michigan, coffee shops have seen a return to nearly normal.
Kalamazoo’s Water Street Coffee is at full capacity, does not require masks for those who are vaccinated and allows customers to bring their own mug or use in-house ceramics. The shop is still operating on restricted hours.
Grand Rapids’ Rowster Coffee is also still on “COVID hours,” but is seating at full capacity, has no mask requirement and allows customers to use both in-house cups and to bring their own.
The Coffee Factory in Muskegon is also operating under lifted restrictions, allowing reusable to-go cups and in-house ceramics, as well as seating at full capacity. Masks are required for those who are not vaccinated and recommended for those who are. The Coffee Factory plans to keep its restricted hours.
Hohn said that while Cahoot’s wants to expand its operations, including bringing back food, restrictions and the hit from the pandemic have stunted growth.
“I don’t know where we draw that line, and I think we’re getting there,” Hohn said.
Cahoot’s recently expanded its staff to four employees, including Hohn.
Although it struggled during the pandemic, Cahoot’s was still able to build regular customers, something Hohn credits to providing an escape for people by making ordering coffee at the store’s door feel like an “event” by decorating the space and making it festive.
“It was a comfort for people, and I think that’s what coffee shops have always been about,” Hohn said.
For Hohn, coffee shops and cafes have always been a “home base.” People know what to expect when they go into a coffee shop, she said. And, it was a safe activity people could do to leave the house.
As spaces begin to fully reopen, including Cahoot’s, Hohn said is excited to make Cahoot’s somewhere people can feel welcome and accepted, regardless of who they are, and give them the opportunity to enjoy a coffee.
“I think people will always want that,” she said.
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