Hey Barista,

Features

HeyBaristaFeature

Brad Reecer

The Harley-riding Coffee Roaster of Mesick, Michigan

Brad Reecer is a 58-year-old with a 118-horse power Harley Davidson and a tiny Chihuahua named Coney Dog. He has five kids by three women, he once bought a hotel after a 45-minute chat with the owner, and in retirement—the stage of life he’s currently in—he runs Brew Ha’s Coffee in the small town of Mesick, Michigan.

We had no intention of writing a Hey Barista story about Brad or his roughly 25-square-foot coffee cart. No one sent us his information, he’s not making the rounds at coffee competitions, and he certainly didn’t hit us up in our DMs. Some of us who work on Hey Barista were on a film shoot in Northern Michigan and were in pursuit of a strong cup of coffee. There, at the end of Mesick Avenue—beyond the small, charming strip of commerce—we found an open parking lot with a picnic table, a hot dog stand, an old garage, and a small coffee cart. “You never know from day to day who’s going to drive in here,” said Brad of the parking lot. “You never know who you’re going to meet, either. That’s the exciting part.”

There are a number of critiques levied against the third-wave coffee scene in the United States: It’s pretentious, it’s for urban elites, it’s expensive. Brew Ha’s is none of those things. For starters, it’s in Mesick—a town of about 400 people that sits two hours north of what you might consider the closest major city, Grand Rapids, Michigan. But there’s also Brad. He’s 6 foot 3, with piercing blue eyes, a collection of tattoos, and a long gray beard, and though his towering presence may be intimidating, his demeanor is the embodiment of classic Midwestern warmth. He’s soft-spoken and reserved and smiles at almost any question or comment. He was intrigued by the idea of Hey Barista, and three months after we all hung out in Mesick, we talked a bit more over the phone about what brought him to town and where he might go next.

PHOTOS BY ALICE SCHOOLCRAFT

“You never know from day to day who’s going to drive in here,” said Brad of the parking lot. “You never know who you’re going to meet, either. That’s the exciting part.”

PHOTOS BY ALICE SCHOOLCRAFT

It was a motorcycle accident that led Brad to Michigan 20 odd years ago. He was running an Italian restaurant in the town of Whitehouse, Ohio, when he got clipped by a school bus. He shattered his right leg and banged up his ankle. “I came up to [Michigan] to recover,” Brad remembers. “We were driving around one day, and I saw a resort for sale. Long story short, about 45 minutes later, I bought it.” So, at 38 years old, Brad was running a resort, renting boats and Jet Skis to Midwestern vacationers on Crystal Lake. All the while he never stopped riding his Harley.

One of the great meccas for Harley Davidson riders is the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Every summer, half a million people descend on the town of Sturgis, South Dakota, to take part in 10 days of unadulterated fun. “Everyone comes in from all over the United States. It’s mind-blowing,” said Brad. “Literally thousands and thousands of bikes everywhere.” He’s been there seven or eight times, can’t fully remember the exact number, but it’s been a while since he’s gone back.

A few years ago, Brad was diagnosed with liver cancer. When we asked how bad it was, the short response said it all: “Bad. Real bad.” The stress of running a resort on Crystal Lake wasn’t something he needed in his life, so he bought a place in Mesick and opened Brew Ha’s Coffee. “Initially, I was going to build a bunch of [Brew Ha’s] for the kids, but they’ve kind of taken their own path in life,” said Brad. So, here he is, technically in retirement, running a coffee shop at the end of Mesick Avenue. In his words, cancer has taught him to be more laid-back and easygoing. When we first met him in that unassuming parking lot on a warm September day, it certainly looked as if he was enjoying himself. We were as well.

At the end of our phone conversation, we asked Brad what the chances are he’ll make it back to Sturgis.

Real good,” he said. “I’m thinking about going next year.”