Quality Beet brings eclectic art, food and coffee to Michigan City
Down an alleyway hosting a variety of storefronts, I find Quality Beet, the wonderfully unique coffeehouse, photo gallery, concert venue, sandwich shop, smoothie stop and grocery store all in one intriguing space. In the backroom, a vat of kombucha tea is fermenting and will be ready to serve this summer. Oh, and did I mention Quality Beet is also a CSA drop-off spot?
Its eclectic nature also serves as a description of owner Tim Bauer, who was writing his thesis on food choice and food waste while a PhD candidate in sociology at Western Michigan University when his goals changed.
“I eventually became more interested in pursuing it from a business perspective,” says Bauer, a native of Michigan City who is happy to be living and working in his hometown.
Opened in February of this year, Quality Beet already has an intense vibe about it in this downtown neighborhood of trending retail and restaurants. People stop by to order an agave latte or matcha orange banana smoothie; to buy one of the cookies Bauer gets from Arturo’s, a Michigan City bakery; or to pick up a half-gallon of organic milk, a bag of El Liquidambar, a Honduran coffee from Dagger Mountain Roastery in nearby Valparaiso, fresh eggs from Hebron Farms in Vandalia or meat from Jake’s Country Meat in Cassopolis, both of which are just across the state line in Michigan.
“Do you have any Blue Moon?” I ask, seeing a sign for Valpo Velvet, the sinfully rich ice cream that has a cult-like following. A longtime local favorite, the family-owned Valpo Velvet in Valparaiso is celebrating its 70th year in business.
“We’re kind of sold out. All the flavors we have go so fast, but their butter pecan is wonderful,” says Bauer, pulling out a pint that he’s been nibbling from all day, scooping up a large spoonful and handing it to me. “Here, have a taste.”
Though it’s a smallish space filled with a variety of mismatched chairs, a table made by placing an old wooden door on legs, walls covered by friend Jesse Meyer’s photographs and handmade quilts from the Quilters Apothecary next door, Bauer frequently hosts concerts here.
“For acoustic reasons, I put the bands back there by the vegetables,” he says, noting that from ages 18 to 22 he not only played in a band but also booked shows for other groups in Michigan City and now in Kalamazoo.
That skill helped him persuade Lucy Dacus, who was traveling from Canada to Chicago to perform in front of 800 people, to make a quick stop at Quality Beet to play one evening.
“For Lucy, I just managed to write to the right people,” Bauer says about how he swayed the popular musician to perform amongst locally grown cabbages and potatoes.
It’s not all local and regional here, a reflection of Bauer’s habit of visiting ethnic neighborhoods and sampling the diverse items there. There are bags of spicy snacks from Thailand (“People love them,” he says, offering me a handful) and condiments from faraway places.
Quality Beet is located in Artspace Uptown Artist Lofts, the former Warren Building built in 1927 and the tallest structure in the nationally designated Franklin Street Historic District. Seven stories with terrazzo floors, large windows and high ceilings, it’s both a living and working space for artists and small business entrepreneurs like Bauer.
“It’s the perfect space for what I want to do—focus on food, sustainability and being a place for the community to meet up,” he says. “I love it here.”