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Written by JOHN MORTON   
Wednesday, 31 May 2017 18:52

Operating on the ground floor of the old riverfront mill, AM Coffee feels very much at home in Grafton


After a couple of years and change, a coffee brewing operation feels at home in a place that looks like home.
“We wanted people to feel like they came to a destination,” said Randy Ahl, co-owner of the Grafton Arts Mill Coffee Roastery, otherwise know as AM Coffee. “You feel you aren’t in the city, at a place where there’s no traffic. And you’re on the river.
coffee“You’re somewhere else.”
Where you are is tucked along the Milwaukee River at 1300 14th Avenue, in the first floor of a mill built in 1884 that most recently generated wool. It is rustic and spacious and a true throwback in time.
“We are old-fashioned,” Ahl said. “We wanted a place where you can hold face-to-face conversations.”
Owners of a coffee shop of the same name in Cedarburg since 1999, Randy and Tammi Ahl expanded to Milwaukee’s Public Market between 2005 and 2014, and then closed that location and moved its guts to Grafton in October of that year. And they feel they’re now good to go.
“It’s not like we have visions of a store in every town,” Randy Ahl said of his shop, which also sells his signature roasts on the wholesale market. “We don’t want to look like a chain. We thought Grafton is a place that would like something to call its own. Something authentic.”
An established chain coffee shop was around the corner in a high-visibility spot, but that didn’t concern Ahl.
“We could have found a location on the main drag with a more visible storefront, but that’s not our style,” he said. “Back in 2006, it seemed every town had its own little coffee shop, but then 2008 came and mostly the big chains survived. But we survived because we know people love coffee and if you produce what people like, they will find you.”
Still, being off the beaten path created a challenge at first.
“We’re so close to downtown, yet people didn’t know about the mill,” Ahl said. “We’d say, ‘We’re in the mill,’ and they’d say, ‘Where’s that?’ They don’t always realize we’re just a block out of the way.”
“But word of mouth is what we’ve always counted on. We like to say our advertising budget is zero. It’s the coffee.”
The aroma may very well make up for a challenging address. The Ahl’s giant roaster used to be at their Cedarburg location, but the 1,500 square feet in Grafton called for its transfer. Now, 15-year roaster employee Andy Wiegerling does all of the company’s roasting at the mill. And it’s open to public view.
The smell it emanates is something to behold.
“Yeah, it fills the room,” Ahl said, laughing in understatement. “The Cedarburg shop is busy and it was hard for Andy to navigate through the crowd with those giant bags of beans.
“In Grafton, he has room to operate and people enjoy watching. There’s a lot going on with that process — he has to listen carefully for when the beans crack and he has to release them at the perfect time for us to get what we’re looking for.”
The space also brings in a wide-ranging social scene.
“We see Mah Jong games take place, we see tango lessons take place, we get the Grafton Moms group. I believe they meet to discuss parenting,” Ahl said. “It’s a versatile space.”
It’s space that customer Abby Stanisch enjoys an average of twice a week, she said.
“They have really good food and really good service,” she said. “It’s a nice atmosphere and feels like a home away from home.”
“I see parents with kids and I see Bible studies. I can tell people are comfortable.”
The space also includes an area used by craft-beer brewers The 024, playing off the city’s ZIP code, whose tables the coffee customers can access in the morning.
“It’s coffee in the morning and beer in the afternoon,” Ahl said. “Until the beer guys open, I see people using their laptops in that area. It’s private.”
Other entities in the building include art and yoga studios.
A yarn store, which once sprawled across the mill’s entire first floor, has trimmed back to an adjacent space.
It’s a nice mix, Ahl said, and lends itself to building friendships with the customers.
“We want people to enjoy being recognized here,” he said. “It’s like Cheers. We‘ll know your name.”

 
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