Strange Matter seeks booze licenses before hard cider season

Coffee shop prepares to expand hours to accommodate evening crowds

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TUESDAY, April 5 — Strange Matter Coffee is set to apply for a state liquor license this month, setting course for the popular local coffee shop to expand to three locations, stay open six hours later and incorporate some boozier options into its menu — all within the next six months.

The Lansing City Council an application approved last week from Strange Matter Coffee for a new tavern license that would allow it to serve beer, wine and hard cider (just no hard liquor) at its downtown location on Washington Square and at its third shop opening this fall in Old Town.

Owner Cara Nader anticipates the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to make a final decision on the application within the next six months. If all goes as planned, the downtown location will reopen this summer and the new shop inside the newly renovated Bethlehem Temple (the old Temple Club) building on Cesar Chavez Avenue will open sometime this fall, Nader hopes. And rather than a 4 p.m. closing time, both shops would serve booze and stay open until 10 p.m, Nader told City Pulse.

“This license will give us the ability to sell and serve past the typical coffee drinking hours, bringing in a new solid revenue stream that can support us long-term,” Nader explained in her recent liquor license application. “Because let’s be honest: $1 cups of coffee only get us so far.”

Don’t worry NIMBYs: Nader isn’t trying to turn the coffee shops into full-blown bars. 

She said more details will be announced as the plans continue to come together this summer, but guests can expect Strange Matter to stay focused on its award-winning coffee — just with some extra “simple food options, beer, wine and hard cider, in addition to our already delicious doughnut and coffee offerings,” according to a licensing application filed with the City Council.

Officials at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, which is helping Strange Matter navigate the licensing process, said the development district license being sought is designed to encourage new business investment in “target areas” identified by the city. Unlike standard liquor licenses, these are only available to businesses that are already offering other dining, entertainment, recreation options — like a coffee shop. And because they aren’t restricted by a quota system, they also often represent a much more affordable option for smaller businesses.

Nader expects to pay about $20,000 for each license. The market rate on a traditional liquor license in the area is much higher — in excess of $35,000 to $40,000, she estimated. If approved, the licenses will also be tied to the address rather than to Strange Matter — meaning it also cannot be transferred or sold in the same way as a traditional liquor license, officials said.

Mitchell Timmerman, an economic development specialist at LEAP, said Strange Matter still must return to the City Council once more after (and if) the state greenlights its tavern licenses.

In January, fueled in part by a $25,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Strange Matter announced plans to expand its space downtown by occupying two vacant neighboring buildings. Nader expects the shop to be ready to open by “late” summer. The downtown location has been closed since the pandemic arrived in March 2020. Currently, only the location on Michigan Avenue is open for business. The Old Town shop is set to open in the fall.

The idea for a coffee shop that shifts to boozier options in the evening is hardly a novel concept. Nader said it’s a similar business model employed by many West Coast coffee shops, with one notable exception to those other, similar examples: Strange Matter has no plans for live music.

Espresso stouts, anyone?

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