Royal Oak Office Coffee Shop brews up co-working space

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — When Michael Keith was in college at Western Michigan University, he spent much of his time studying in a coffee shop above a video store in Kalamazoo. After he became an engineer, he found himself spending time in cafes in between jobs and at the end of the day.

“I always enjoyed wrapping up my day at a Starbucks or whatever to get my paperwork done,” said the Waterford resident. “As working virtually started to get more popular and we could plug in remotely more easily, I still found myself in coffee shops.”

After 11 years as an engineer, Keith decided he wanted to create the ideal space for working remotely, a spot where one could go for a quick cup of coffee or even have an office to rent by the hour for business meetings and conference calls. That’s how he brewed up the idea of the Office Coffee Shop.

Keith has chosen Royal Oak as the site of his business, on the corner of Fourth Street and Lafayette Avenue in a 2,700-square-foot site that used to be a gym.

He says he hopes to offer a co-working space that would typically be too expensive for a small business to afford, and one that doesn’t have as many strings attached.

“It’s a big differentiation from the co-working services where there’s usually a dedicated desk with monthly fees.” he said. “We want to do more of the ‘pay-as-you-go model.”

As such, customers will be able to come in, order drinks or a select list of food items and work, just as at a typical coffee shop. For those who want to have a private office space, rooms will be available for $15 per hour. There’s also a conference room that can be rented for events with 10-20 people. For those who want something more consistent, and a business address where they can get mail, Keith will offer monthly rates. He already has seven businesses signed up to use the space fairly regularly, but he doesn’t want it to have a “members only” vibe.

“What we want is people to come off the street, we want it open to the public,” he said. “It’s about fostering connections.”

The number of people telecommuting or working from home tripled between 1980 and 2010, according to a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University and released in March.

In 2013, 56 percent of self-employed workers and 20 percent of wage and salary employees worked from home, according to a survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Flexibility has also become important to working professionals in recent years.

According to an Ernst & Young study that surveyed nearly 9,700 people in eight countries including the U.S., after competitive pay and benefits, 74 percent said “being able to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion” was important when considering a job. The same percentage said “working with colleagues, including my boss, who support my efforts to work flexibly” were important.

The study was conducted between November 2014 and January 2015, and included respondents in the U.S., U.K., India, Japan, China, Germany, Mexico and Brazil. The results were released last week.

As more people work flexibly or remotely, the pitfalls of such arrangements have become apparent. While many people are more productive and have a better work-home life balance, some return to the office because they miss the camaraderie of working alongside their peers.

“There’s this loss of creativity when you’re working from your house,” said Keith. “When you don’t want to work at home and you have the flexibility of not going into the office, that’s where this third space fits.”

The Office Coffee Shop is aiming for a soft open this Friday. The menu will start out with just a few items, including freshly ground coffee from Water Street Coffee in Kalamazoo, and snacks and desserts from local companies.

When customers go to pay for their coffee and scones, they will become familiar with another pillar of the business, one that Keith says was most important for his family when getting started: philanthropy.

Keith’s wife Brooke wanted to make sure there would be a way for the family to give back. “We would write checks to charities every so often and it was never enough for me,” she said. “I wanted to feel like I was making a bigger impact.”

So they built philanthropy into their business model, with 5 percent of all sales going toward one of four charities:, which provides drinking water wells to villages in Africa; Forgotten Harvest, which provides fresh food to homeless shelters and locations across Metro Detroit; Team Joseph, a local charity started by a family friend whose son has Duchenne muscular dystrophy; and Wigs for Kids.

The last one is particularly important for Brooke Keith. About five years ago, she was diagnosed with alopecia and she lost all of her hair, so she knows what kind of struggle it can be for kids.

Although the family has had to make monetary sacrifices while building their startup — Michael Keith says he “doesn’t anticipate taking a vacation for the foreseeable future,” — the mission of giving back is what drives them and what they hope their 5- and 8-year-old daughters pick up as well.

“I hope they’ll learn compassion, understanding and giving,” said Brooke Keith. “Kids these days get so much and they don’t see how many kids don’t have anything. Once we get up and running, I can’t wait to make them a big part of it.”

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