Having given up caffeine some time ago, it took me a while to discover that Miro Lomeli, the guy who roasted the coffee at the Ugly Mug, had packed up and moved to Chicago. Thankfully, though, I was able to track him down and ask him a few questions. What follows is his official exit interview.
MIRO: The Ugly Mug. I was living in Highland, and working at a cafe called the Mug Shot, also known as It’s a Grind. During my time there, I became very interested in making coffee, and I’d constantly have customers come in and tell me about the Ugly Mug. Curiosity led me to venture out and visit Ypsi. Once I had my first shot of espresso at the Ugly Mug, I knew that I wanted to work there. At the time it seemed like the only place for me… a place where I could work and develop the skill set I needed to pursue my new-found passion.
MARK: And how long ago was it that you started at the Ugly Mug?
MIRO: I worked at the Ugly Mug for six years. I started on my 21st birthday. Over that time I held nearly every position possible, but my main focus, in the end, became coffee roasting. I absolutely love it.
MARK: What do you love about it?
MIRO: I love getting to know each and every coffee that comes into the roastery. It’s like meeting a new friend. You begin by asking where they’re from, then about their family, what they hate, and what they love. Over time you become better friends, and working together becomes easier. Every coffee reacts differently in the roasting process, so it’s important to find out everything you can before you begin roasting. Every variable counts… Moisture, varietals, density, soil, processing, elevation, origin, etc. I think I really just love figuring out variables and constructing roast profiles that will help the coffees justifiably express themselves.
MARK: You mentioned before that, when you were working in Highland, you kept hearing about the Ugly Mug… and it’s something that I come across a lot when interviewing people as they’re either coming to live in Ypsi, or leaving… Folks feel really passionately about the Ugly Mug… Why do you think that is? Is it just that they serve damned good coffee, and the folks working behind the counter take it really seriously, or is there something more?
MIRO: For the coffee aficionados that aren’t from the Mitten, the Mug is a place with great coffee, in a tiny hole-in-the-wall city, in Michigan. For Michigan folk, it’s also a highly reputable cafe, that roasts their coffee, and were one of the first to do so. For the people living in Ypsi, it’s the town living room. It’s where people waddle to, half-asleep, to pound coffee, become coherent, and functional. The Mug is a staple, and people are always going to love it or hate it… depending on who you’re talking to.
MARK: If you could only keep one Ypsi memory, what would it be?
MIRO: …the Elbow Room?
MARK: What about the Elbow Room specifically?
MIRO: Well it’s one of those, “you just had to be there” sort of things. It’s funny, I realize how fucked up this sounds, but I think I met a lot of my friends at that bar… That’s something you don’t want to tell your mom… The Mug and The Elbow Room had a very close relationship. We were all part of the same dysfunctional family. Same cast, but different shows. Coffee in the morning, shit house at night, and coffee for the hangover. Rinse, repeat. I always referred to the Elbow as the ‘clubhouse’. You could always count on walking in and knowing someone. Could be someone from work who would try to take you out in a game of pool, or a familiar Ypsi face who’d go from acquaintance to new bud (or not), or one of your best friends who just happened to be working behind the bar that night, even though he didn’t really work there. It’s a time in space that can no longer exist, but, in the time that it was alive, it was both destructive and perfect.
MARK: If you had to explain to someone that had never been there what it was like in 20 words or less, what would you say?
MIRO: It’s a dark place where people go to forget their other dark place. Or, the local gay bar.
MIRO: I’m not sure how much it was Ypsi changing, and how much it was just my perception of Ypsi that was changing, but, for me, Ypsi changed quite a bit over the last six years. Before I moved to Ypsilanti, someone once told me, “Ypsi’s a good place to visit, but not to live.” People have a certain perception of Ypsi. They think there’s nothing to do in Ypsi but drink and get fucked up. And I certainly saw that side of Ypsilanti in my first couple of years… I began to believe what “they” said about the town… But, as time went by, I realized that it wasn’t true… Ypsilanti has a very limited catalog of stuff to do. And, if you rely on the routine bar and restaurant visit, which is what most people do when visiting any place, that’s what you see. But, for the residents, it’s more about creating what will happen in your day-to-day life. The people of Ypsilanti are a very ambitious and creative bunch. I’ve never been a part of such a close and creative community. Everyone surrounding you can have so much influence, and become an inspiration, if you just know where to look. It’s about spending enough time and meeting the right people. I’ve met some of the best people in my life in Michigan, and many of those great people reside in Ypsilanti.
MARK: What are you be doing in Chicago?
MIRO: I’m now living in Chicago and working for Gaslight Coffee Roasters, as the “head of coffee”. I’m in charge of green sourcing, contract approvals, roasting, quality control, and yadda yadda yadda. It’s great! I love the city and my family also lives here, so I get to see them a lot more.
MIRO: So, how did Gaslight come about, and what makes Gaslight so awesome?
MIRO: Gaslight is a cafe that opened up about a year ago in the heart of Logan Square. What makes is so awesome is that it’s in a neighborhood that is up and coming, and becoming very popular. There’s no other place like this in the area. Quality-focused drinks, great food, minimal, clean, and gorgeous.
MARK: So, did you grow up in Chicago?
MARK: By “LA” do you mean Los Angeles or Louisiana? I think I know the answer, but I want to be sure… Either way, how’d you get from there to Chicago? And from Chicago to Michigan?
MIRO: Los Angeles. I’m not too sure how I got to Chicago. I was a baby, so I’m pretty sure I was hanging out and going with whatever my parents were deciding at the time. When I was 14 my mom remarried and decided with her new husband that Michigan was the next stop.
MARK: Skate culture… are you leaving it better or worse than when you found it?
MIRO: Better. When I first moved to Ypsi, the skateboarding culture… or rather ‘scene’… was very scarce. I probably knew about two or three other people that skated at the time. But, over time, the skateboarding scene progressively became more popular, and, slowly, you’d see more skaters pop out here and there, especially with the younger kids, which is always great to see. It’s a very influential activity.
MARK: I have fond memories of the little skate park that popped up at the corner of Washington and Cross, in the shadow of the abandoned gas station. I don’t skate, but I loved how people seemingly came together and reclaimed that little plot of neglected ground… Now, of course, that’s given way to what used to be the tennis courts in Recreation Park. I haven’t been there, but I hear that they’re building new, more ambitious structures out of cement, which, if true, is really cool.
MIRO: Yeah, that little gas station was the first DIY spot in Ypsi. The dude who started building all that stuff is a good friend of mine and actually lived right next to the gas station at the time. Shortly after it got torn down, the search for the next place began. That place would become Prospect Park. And, yes, it’s true… it went from two wooden ledges to cement banks, and quarters, and construction is scheduled to continue. That project has a special place in my heart. When construction really began to take off, the city took notice and wanted to tear it down. Word got out that there would be a meeting at City Hall to discuss the project, and every skateboarder showed up. I believe there were about 20 chairs for people who wanted to partake in that meeting, and, about 50-60 people showed up in support of the skatepark, including parents, business owners, and of course, skaters… some as young as 12 years old. It’s great to see how strong the skateboarding community really is. The City currently supports the project, and they’re working closely with skateboarders to make it legitimate in accordance with the Parks and Rec department. And, if you’re wondering where all the money is coming from for this project, you can thank all of the local skateboarders, and Eric Koston and Steve Berra from theberrics.com. They have a segment in their website called “DIY or Die,” which just featured the Ypsi Skatepark.
MARK: Best customer at the Ugly Mug?
MARK: I don’t think I know Deezle. What makes her, or him, so awesome?
MIRO: He is consistent, Belgian, and a real life cartoon character. A man driven by routine, coffee, cigarettes, and honey buns. He’s been a regular since day one.
MIRO: Bizzare moments. Every Ugly Christmas party gets weird, and I’m pretty sure there’s a ghost living inside the shop. One time the bathroom drain was clogged and we discovered a crushed beer can and a thong. How those two things got in that drain remains a mystery.
MARK: It must have happened at one of those Christmas parties.
MIRO: I’m not ruling it out.
MARK: If you could meet your favorite historical figure, but could just say ten words to him/her, what would those words be?
MIRO: I don’t think I’m interested in meeting any historical figures. And, even if I were to meet a historical figure, I’d probably just ask something stupid like, “Uhh, what are you doing here?” or “ Sorry, I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.”
MIRO: No. Ypsi is always going to be Ypsi. The community will always push it forward when it needs it, and things will always be fine. That’s one of the many reasons I love Ypsilanti. Keep it up guys.
MARK: Did you find this at all cathartic?
MIRO: Not really… I think there’s always going to be this weird reminisce of Ypsi inside me. Besides, I don’t think I’d want to feel that way.
[Curious as to why your friends, neighbors and local coffee roasters are leaving? Check out our archive of Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interviews.]