Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Kalamazoo’s Caffè Casa has been serving something different for 30 years

KALAMAZOO, MI – Casa means house in Spanish.

So it’s no surprise that stepping into the Caffe Casa at 128 S. Kalamazoo Mall makes you feel like you’re in someone’s home.

John and Kathy Beebe is a place where everyone is welcome. Since late 1992, John and Kathy Beebe have been running their quirky independent cafe and restaurant, serving the public for three full decades now, since they were both in their 20s.

It hasn’t always been easy, and the couple have overcome multiple challenges over the years, from starting and growing cafe chains in the area alongside local competitors, to a serious motorcycle accident involving John Beebe in 2017, and the COVID -19 pandemic.

But despite it all, “the shop,” as they affectionately called it for three decades, endured.

“I feel like what we did is a snowflake and you couldn’t try to recreate it,” Kathy Beebe told MLive/The Kalamazoo Gazette. “There is something magical about this place and it is experienced by so many people.

“For example, you could talk affectionately about someone and comment that you haven’t seen them in so long, and that person will literally walk across the room. There are countless examples of this. It happens so often it’s bizarre.”

The couple signed their first lease with Peregrine Realty in 1992 and did everything from leveling and tiling the floor to creating what Kathy Beebe describes as “a very eclectic space filled with art and plants and creations by so many different, talented people.” but all designed by her and her husband.

A plant wall featuring vintage grow lights showcases plants that have grown with the company since day one, allowing guests and staff to be surrounded by life and light during a break and, as Kathy Beebe says, “with an enhanced sense and a… positive experience going home in your pocket.”

“I’m trying to contain the clutter and keep it clean and open to appease minimalists, but John and I are both descendants of collectors,” she said, referring to the plants and walls, which feature artwork by local artist Jerry Fry are filled as well as pieces by other artisans and bespoke furniture.

While her parents and grandparents collected everything from antique firearms to model trains, wicker baskets and hats, or in the case of Kathy Beebe’s mother, “all the things of Jesus,” Kathy says, she’s only concerned with collecting things that serve a purpose like serve the plants as well as stories, people and experiences.

During the pandemic, she said, it was the stories and conversations she shared with people that kept the place going while they were only for takeout.

“I sold social work,” she said. “People were coming in and I wasn’t allowed to let them stay, but there was no limit to how long it took them to order.

“I let them stand in line and we talked until the next person came in behind them. And then I asked her what I could do for her, but it was clear that people needed someone to talk to, myself included. Being here for people has allowed me to see purpose.”

Beebe said one of the biggest challenges for Caffe Casa overcoming the pandemic is that so many people were buying fancy coffee and espresso machines at home and becoming experts themselves.

“Lunch got us back on track,” she said. “Almost everyone who came in got lunch.”

The store’s lunch menu has not only helped them survive the pandemic, but also helped them weather the competition over the years, she said.

“It’s not the biggest lunchtime menu in the world, but it’s a good part of my business, and most cafes, not all, don’t even come into that range,” Beebe said. “Since our menu is small, everything is freshly made to order. People are special and that allows us to design things the way they want them to.”

The croissants and bagels used for the shop’s sandwiches, as well as the pastries, are all baked in-house by Kathy Beebe, who also makes fresh soups daily, and John Beebe makes whatever comes on the bagels.

Aside from the lunch menu, the couple keeps things consistent with their coffee, proudly serving Lansing-based Paramount Coffee since the day it opened.

“We found it while living there,” she said. “We were on a bike ride and smelled this amazing coffee and we followed our nose and found Paramount Coffee.

“They blended and roasted our coffee to our specifications 30 years ago, and there’s no other place in town that has that espresso.”

Beyond coffee, Caffe Casa offers a unique selection of loose leaf teas, Italian and French sodas, and other beverages like vegan power lattes and gingerbread lattes. There are no bubble teas, pour overs, or matcha teas, but that’s part of the store’s charm.

“If you’re ready to experience something different, come in, because that’s it,” Beebe said.

The Caffe Casa is open Monday to Wednesday from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm, Thursday to Friday from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm and Saturday from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. For more information, call 269-385-1026 or visit www.caffecasa.net.

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