The closure of Saturday business hours this weekend brings us a different Dexter; a place that exists sans Foggy Bottom Coffee House. The business served a dual purpose to the community in that it was another source of quality coffee in town while also being a favorite gathering space where pairs and groups of people from all walks of life met to discuss, plan, and connect on matters of importance to the community.
Well-known and -loved owner Doug Marrin recently recounted the saga of his valiant attempts to keep one of the most popular, if not the most popular, public meeting spaces opened to the many Dexter residents who relied on it over the years.
Earlier last year, Marrin thought he had some solid potential deals in the works to sell his coffee business, but those deals fell through and he decided to make a go of driving the business in a sustainable direction himself until later in the year when rumors that he had already closed shop caused many to stop frequenting his shop.
“We had a number of deals in succession and just for one reason after another the deals didn’t go through and we just couldn’t get things worked out,” he said. The most promising deal involved an unnamed company that sells both coffee and iced cream, but that deal fell through late last spring.
That buyer had been approved by the landlord Oxford Properties, so Marrin had high hopes.
Business picked up after that so Marrin pushed forward from there, but business slid once the rumor-mill got churning full tilt.
“That deal falling through really changed the tide for us — it sounded like a sure deal so we were happy,” Marrin said. The deal continued via text message while he was on a hiking trip, which he decided to take to clear his mind and because the deal seemed like it was done.
“I’m on this backpacking trip and I can’t enjoy it, because I’m on my phone using GPS to text … the buyer and the landlord didn’t have the same figure on the rent and they weren’t able to reconcile,” he explained.
During the final weeks of this past year another potential buyer stepped forward and negotiations ensued throughout the holidays, but as it got through Christmas and New Years that deal too fell apart as the potential buyer backed off.
It was all just too much for Marrin, who is more of a creative and spiritual person who sees business as a means to the end of living a life, rather than the end that one pursues chiefly in the living of their life.
“He’s always been really creative,” said Marrin’s wife Tracy (Ritt). She recalled the 20 years her husband worked hard for national fast food chain Wendy’s moving up through the ranks from working the food line to being a district supervisor overseeing numerous stores and employees.
Marrin has always worked hard, cared about the quality of what he’s doing, and given those he is responsible to his absolute all, Tracy said. On the other hand, Marrin has always been the kind of passionate soul that one might not imagine climbing the ranks of a fast food chain, which is one of the reasons he struck off on his own to start Foggy Bottom 11 years ago.
Foggy Bottom was opened during the economic boom that made Dexter the fastest growing municipality according to the most recent U.S. Census data in 2004. At the time Pfizer Pharmaceuticals was still a major employer in the area and there were still companies that have since gone away from the county, such as Borders Group headquarters.
As the economy soured and major employers shuttered, Marrin said there was a real “clenching of the money” by most people, who were just a little more hesitant to splurge on the quality food and coffee he was offering as often as they once had.
At around that time the previous owners of the plaza that Foggy Bottom called home started to falter and tenants were leaving in droves. It wasn’t until Oxford Properties took over that the plaza’s commercial ecosystem stabilized and improvements were made to the plaza buildings. This change of landlord was a big help to Foggy Bottom and all of its commercial neighbors.
“I can’t say enough about Oxford Properties … they’ve been great (and) they’re the kind of company that other companies want to do business with,” Marrin said.
Business picked back up over the years, but there are more coffee shops and more places for Dexter’s young to spend their time away from home over the past several years in particular. Both of these factors have diverted the foot traffic frequency that Foggy Bottom once enjoyed.
And Marrin also came to a realization that has not only played into his decision to close Foggy Bottom, but also the direction that he is going to take his life from here on out.
“I realized much to my pleasure and satisfaction that I’m not a businessman,” he explained. “I enjoy being at the counter serving, greeting and meeting people.”
Those who met Marrin at that counter over the years might have wondered what was going through his mind while serving them their coffee. He can assure everyone that the beans he was counting in his mind weren’t the metaphorical kind, but coffee beans. And he was thinking about all of the great people who he had the privilege of serving his product to and interacting with every day.
“I really enjoy how people give me little snippets of their life and I get to live life vicariously through them — that’s what drives me, not the bottom line,” Marrin explained, adding that he doesn’t want anyone to think that he’s saying that about himself to convince anyone that it’s a virtue that he possess.
It’s just who he is and he’s always been open about sharing his thoughts, feelings, and time with good folks who cross paths with him.
That counter that people would come up to each day is the main thing Marrin is going to miss.
“How do I stay connected to a lot of these people — the answer is: I’m not,” Marrin said with a little sadness in his eyes. “I’m going to have to say goodbye to a lot of these folks and I don’t like saying goodbye.”