New coffee shop La Ventana Cafe quietly opened in Eastern Market’s bustling commercial district at 1492 Gratiot Avenue. The minimalist, airy third space features coffee sourced by iconic Midwest brand Intelligentsia, a charming outdoor patio, and an elevated bleacher-style seating area and U-shaped bar that encourage folks to return to the pursuit of leisurely meet ups with friends and family in real life.
Juan and Kat Perez — the husband-and-wife duo behind the space, which opened its doors in February — had been envisioning launching a spot that can help build community for well over a decade.
“The philosophy that we’ve been reading about this third wave coffee culture is about eliminating all the obstacles that get in the way of you and the experience,” Juan Perez tells Eater. “It lends to a beautiful design, yes, but it’s more about coming here and all the senses — sight, sound, taste, smell — everything is hitting you.”
The pair met in art school in San Francisco in the aughts and were inspired by the many cafes that they frequented in their previous lives in the Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Among their travels was to southeast Michigan for regular visits with Juan Perez’s brother, who attended school in Ann Arbor. When the couple started growing their family, they looked to southeast Michigan to relocate. They fell in love with the third wave coffee shops in the area, like the now defunct Astro Coffee, where artists and others can gather and foster a sense of community.
“For outsiders who are visiting, it really gave us an inside look at what was going on,” says Juan Perez, recalling conversations with Astro co-owner Daisuke Hughes over the years about the significance of third spaces like cafes to cities. “We always talk about if you’re traveling, and you’re in a new city, and you’ve never been there before you’re going to walk right past the concierge and you’re either going to go to a coffee shop or a cool bar, and you’re going to talk to the barista or the bartender and they’re going tell you what’s going on in that city.”
Detroit-based Omilian & Morin Architecture & Design was brought on to design the kind of aesthetic that will invite guests to decide what kind of experience they want to have. A handful of round two-top tables situated alongside a bench is ideal for the WFH crowd looking hunker down solo with a laptop, while the bleachers are built for small groups to gather, kids to stretch their legs, or for live performances by local artists.
An oversized, U-shaped bar at the center of the cafe allows for regulars to catch up with one another or with the barista on duty.
“Juan always had an idea very much like a bar for night, [where] we would have a place where regulars would come and they know the barista, they want to talk about coffee, or they want to talk about things in community,” says Kat Perez.
“I kept talking about the U-shaped bar, because any place that has that, that’s like a special spot,” adds Juan Perez. “You’re sitting there, and you’re forced to look at the person sitting across from you, not forced in a bad way, but it encourages engagement.”
Playing off the name of the establishment (ventana is the Spanish word for window), the cafe features oversized windows above the bleachers facing Gratiot and the couple had additional windows installed that face the enclosed outdoor patio area, allowing natural sunlight to flood the interior. During the warmer months, Perez says he hopes to open up one window to allow customers to place orders from outside.
“The concept behind the [name is] we always wanted to have a cafe with an indoor space and an outdoor space, and in order to make the flow between those two spaces, to make it feel like one space, you need a window. That’s the future that allows that,” says Perez. “In Spanish, I just think the word sounds great and then it tells the story of what we wanted to do as well.”
La Ventana currently sells a lineup of croissants from Canelle Detroit and sources its beans from Intelligentsia Coffee, the stalwart Chicago brand known for its high quality roasting. The Perezes plan to work with local food vendors to supply other ready-made snacks and down the line, they are considering building out a full commercial kitchen, inviting pop-up ventures for special events, and having food trucks operate in the courtyard when weather permits.
La Ventana Cafe is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.