Sharon Kennedy: A Traditional Barista Coffee House

The Dancing Crane Coffee House on Lakeshore Drive in Brimley is a special place in the Upper Peninsula. When owners, Jim and Cathy LeBlanc, opened their barista coffee shop 18 years ago, it received a warm welcome from the locals. Prior to COVID-19, friends would gather to drink coffee, have lunch, and discuss everything from politics to the best strategy for winning a cribbage game. Since the pandemic, indoor dining and board games have stopped, but brewing freshly roasted beans continued. Coffee was served via the drive-thru window. Although the LeBlancs have recently opened their front door, at this time indoor dining is still not available.

I asked Cathy about the genesis for the Dancing Crane. “When Jim retired from family therapy in Wisconsin, we decided it was time to return home to the Bay Mills Indian community. In 2006, only two months after having emergency quadruple bypass surgery, Jim started cutting and collecting red pine trees from the area to build the initial 20’x48’ structure. Cement was poured by the end of the summer and the roof was on by the following January. Before opening our doors, we attended a coffee trade show in Chicago. We added to our knowledge of product information and the history, tradition, equipment, marketing, and preparation of drinks. We were confident we were offering our customers a new experience they would enjoy.

“We have a variety of smoothie flavors and syrups and various combinations to suit our customers. With all the choices available, we can make hundreds of different drinks, both hot and cold. Our coffees include fair trade and organic, regular and decaffeinated. We also offer lattes, cappuccino, frappes, espressos, and chai tea. All of our beverages are guaranteed to please the palate because we use only the best of the best products. Every day we roast and grind fresh green coffee beans which guarantee a delicious cup of coffee. We promote eco-friendly products and do our part for the planet by trying to teach people about the importance of protecting the earth. Over the years, we’ve been called an ‘Oasis’ by many travelers who have stopped by and thanked us for the small ecological footprint we leave on our environment.

“In addition to our beverages, we sell packaged teas and coffees and handmade items. We have dream-catchers, medicine wheels, carved art, and original paintings. Our jewelry selection includes necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. We stock sweet grass products and books on Native culture and traditions. We pack a lot into our small shop and are continually adding to our supply of merchandise. Prior to the pandemic, our ‘open door’ policy encouraged entertainers including bands, soloists, poetry readers, and all genres of artists. We’re hoping to re-establish this in the near future. As a traditional, Italian-based coffee house, we’re a gathering place for our neighbors and strangers who become friends.

“As of today, we have over 60,000 customers from more than 100 different countries who have signed our visitors’ books. Some of these visitors have learned about us from various Internet travel sites that recommend the Bay Mills area and our coffee house as an interesting destination. Some customers learn about us from the positive comments on Trip Advisor and Yelp. We are here for the people in our community and we welcome travelers from near and far. It’s our goal to give them the best coffee they have ever tasted and a welcome as warm as the fire in our electric grate.”

The day I visited, Jim sold me a copy of his “Barista Training Manual.” Although I have no intention of becoming a barista, what he wrote is interesting and gives a lot of information for anyone interested in barista training and in the basic philosophy of Jim and Cathy. What follows are direct quotes from Jim’s manual:

“The Dancing Crane Coffee House is unique in the Upper Peninsula, not only because of the high quality in products, but also in the training that baristas get to bring this value to customers. We will train persons interested in gaining a professional relationship to coffee and its worldwide tradition that we continue to promote and create.

“We agree with the virtues of the Crane Clan and the circle of life. We recognize such virtues in the coffee culture and promote those virtues including fair trade, organically grown and eco-friendly products. Our logo depicts a dancing crane on the circle of life as an invitation to peoples of the earth to come for a cup of good coffee. So far they have. In our first two years of operation, we had thousands of visitors from over 50 countries. Those signing our book come from near and far. Many from countries as far away as Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Malaysia, England, all of the states, as well as from our local area. The feedback was always positive.

“We are selling a service designed to be the highlight of a customer’s day. The drink is presented by a barista trained to keep good thoughts and all the factors involved in making a good drink taste even better. We intend these good thoughts will be contagious and cause the customers’ day to improve. We recognize, as well, that the experiences prior to coming to the Dancing Crane will influence how the beverage will be perceived.

“In the circle of life, as we interpret it, bad thoughts interfere with the gift we are intended to be. Bad thoughts will also obscure our ability to recognize the gifts that come to us from every direction as we walk our path of life. These principals govern our relationships with customers, but also with other baristas a well. The efforts to increase good thoughts are good habits and are expected to improve life for baristas in all areas of their lives. Good thoughts were involved in the process of cutting the trees for the Coffee House, building it, stocking it, cleaning it, and in customer relations in a way that creates a ‘field of energy’ that pushes away the cloud of negativity that encroaches on so many people.”

As a non-Native American, I had often wondered what the dancing crane logo represented and was pleased to find the answer in Jim’s manual. Some readers may be aware of the crane’s significance, but for those who aren’t I think the following excerpts will be interesting: “With the exception of South America, cranes occupy the entire earth and regard it as their home and all its occupants as their family. Cranes fly in formation at very high altitudes where they can see everything. When the leader gets tired, another crane takes its place. Cranes are protective of the flock and may even self-sacrifice to benefit the flock. People all over the earth revere cranes for their virtues. At the Dancing Crane we want baristas to be cranes. Helping each other through sharing what has been learned is where the energy for love in the cup comes from.”

If you’ve been inspired to visit the Dancing Crane in Bay Mills, meet the baristas, and taste some delicious coffee, check out their Facebook page for hours of operation or give them a call at 906-248-3387.

Editor’s Note: Click on the photo to enlorge gallery

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