May 5 2010 12:00 AM

Coffee and Friends offers local goods (and goodies)

John Reich didn’t have to build Coffee and Friends Café — it’s located in the Okemos site that formerly housed a Cappuccino Café — but they sure are coming.

Nearly 3 months old, Coffee and Friends has ably filled the communal and caffeinated void. Reich, who also owns an automotive repair garage in Bath Township, says his newest venture is about connecting with the locals, both as a businessman and citizen.

“We really started this to make some jobs for local people in the community,” he says. “It’s not the large corporations that are hiring, it’s small businesses like us.”

Three of Reich’s five children work at Coffee and Friends. Hosford, 27, the youngest and most visible of Reich’s three daughters that work in the café, is the service manager. She says there is a two-fold emphasis on supporting the community: buying local and offering a shared space for diners, artists, musicians and others.

The food is, as much as possible, purchased from local sellers, such as the East Lansing Food Co-op, and that goes for décor as well.

“If it’s not made in this area, we hire people to make it,” Hosford says. Small vases on the tables were made by a Michigan artist who was sought out after the family saw many a vase stamped “Made in China” on the bottom.

Paintings are rotated each month, giving local artists an opportunity to showcase their work and maybe even make a couple of bucks off their passion. This month, Haslett High School students have art on display, and, yes, their paintings are for sale.

The food is nearly all made from scratch, “Anyone can go and make a muffin from Sara Lee mix," Hosford says, "but we want something that tastes different.”

Hosford makes sure customers get the individual treatment they desire, whether it’s making a special-order vegetarian quiche for someone with food allergies or constructing a whipped cream and sprinkles dessert for a finicky 5-year old.

Amiee West, 34, the oldest of Reich’s three daughters, handles public relations, advertising and graphic design. “She does anything involved with touching the computer,” Hosford says.

West rebuts that job description with a laugh: “I make things pretty,” she says.

Margaret Tufnell, 30, manages the kitchen, churning out cookies, scones and chocolates while supervising an eclectic kitchen staff that is encouraged to hone their skills through experimentation and independent Truffles, cookies and other miniature desserts fill the cases at Coffee and Friends. Prices range from 25 cents to $2.50. thinking.

An assortment of truffles, cookies, muffins and scones ($0.25-$2.50) fill a display case every day, tempting coffee-drinkers with irresistible sweetness. A lemon bar — thick, gooey, sweet and tangy — can last all night with its velvety yellow filling caressing your tongue before a warm rush of espresso washes it down.

About a dozen sandwiches, a few salads, homemade soup, quiche and musili round out the menu, with a few other savory choices for those with more than a sweet tooth.

Perhaps the most representative item of the café is a not-so-simplepeanut butter and jelly sandwich ($3.50). In an effort to cater to varied tastes and ever-increasing food allergies, the “peanut butter” isn’t just made from peanuts: You can order cashew, almond or sunflower butter. Then you decide on jelly: strawberry, grape, blueberry, raspberry, honey or marmalade. Want more choices? Your bread comes in white, wheat or rye, sans crust, if so desired.

And the coffee, which comes from a Plymouth, Mich., roaster, must be mentioned. Get it any way you want with over 60 gourmet flavors (22 of which are sugar-free) or as a coffee smoothie. Or try some tea, instead. Or a fruit smoothie, or Italian or French soda. Or maybe just a hot chocolate. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re ordering drinks made from quality ingredients.

Live music is booked Friday and Saturday evenings. The café devotes a couple of shelves near a coffee station to communal literature with a take-a-book/leave-a-book space intended to encourage shared interests. And groups are forming on different days of the week. So far, a couple of book clubs come together over coffee and tea, as well as a mothers’ group and a knitting group.

Coffee and Friends grew out of a void, and Reich hopes it becomes a thriving social matrix of locals that not only brings people together over food and drink but also leads by example as its business is built hand-inhand with ventures similar to itself.

“It’s really important to support the small, independent business owner,” Reich says. “They’re the backbone of our community.”

Coffee and Friends Café

Marsh Road, Suite 3, Okemos (517) 347-0962 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-
Thursday; 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday TO, WiFi, $