Opening his own coffee shop and antique store was always part of Tim McKee’s retirement plans, but when his decades-long career in the nightclub business was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, McKee’s vision of retirement will soon become his new livelihood.
“When I lost my job, it suddenly came to the top of the list,” he says. “I mean, you have to work.”
A resident of Hazel Park since 2016, McKee still lives a few blocks from the relatively new Hazel Perk cafe, coffee shop, antique store, community and event space and more. The local small business celebrated its grand opening in December 2022.
As a resident and now a business owner — and a coffee shop owner — McKee has a good sense of what’s going on in Hazel Park these days. (“I’m on this side of 75 days of my life,” he says). What he sees, sees and foresees is a city that is increasingly attractive to entrepreneurs locally and regionally. While COVID-19 may have forced his coffee shop plans to come a little early, he seems very happy with what he’s doing.
“You’re going to see this area come up,” McKee said of the stretch of John R’s between 8 Mile Road and I-75, hinting at future developments without giving too much away and saying only local coffee. The store owner can, really. “This is one of the reasons why I went to this region. “Before I become really famous, I want to be a grandfather.”
The prevailing narrative around these parts is that the opening of destination restaurant Mabel Gray signaled to area entrepreneurs that Hazel Park would soon become the next local hot spot for small businesses to set up shop. It’s hard to argue. Since opening in 2015, Hazel Park welcomed Joebar in 2017 (now rebranded and refocused as FRAMEbar); barber and menswear store Youngbloods 2018; a new-look Doug’s Delight in 2018; fresh food and juice destination We Juice 2020; and many marijuana dispensaries starting in 2020 thanks to the city’s generous cannabis business laws.
Detroit and Michigan-themed apparel company Ink Detroit moved from its Ferndale storefront to the 9 Mile Road section of Hazel Park in late 2019. It’s been a boon for the business, says co-founder Paul Marcial. he and co-founder Steven Mansour kept the business going in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — free parking, a prominent storefront on 9 Mile and proximity to I-75 were key factors then and now. It has also helped them grow ever since.
Marcial says Hazel Park’s business-friendly approach didn’t hurt either.
“The City of Hazel Park has been very easy to deal with. (Former city councilman and current State Representative for House District 8) Mike McFall has been super supportive. Their posts on social media really influenced us,” says Marcial. “The city is big and easy to deal with. “There can be a lot of red tape and other nonsense that makes you want to open a business in your own city.”
The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns and restrictions have slowed the pace of new business openings here and elsewhere, with grand openings and ribbon-cutting celebrations around the city slowing. But things are heating up again. The past year has seen a flurry of new businesses opening up in Hazel Park, and if coffee shop owner Tim McKee is as right as he seems to be, this may just be a sign of things to come.
The same month Hazel Perk Cafe opened, longtime downtown Ferndale coffee shop Java Hutt Cafe opened a second location, also on John R, but further north and closer to 10 Mile. Key West-themed bar Eastern Palace Club and Smokey Lotus BBQ celebrated the grand opening of their shared premises in the early days of 2023. BDT Smoke Shop underwent a significant expansion in 2023, which included the opening of The Hive boutique cannabis dispensary. And earlier this summer, Shredderz Food Truck opened a permanent location in the old Dairy Park ice cream stand.
That’s a lot for a city of about 2.8 square miles with a population of less than 15,000. But it’s also more convenient than neighboring Ferndale and is at the intersection of several major corridors to the region, including 8 Mile Road, I-75 and I-696. Maybe it’s a good thing Hazel Perk Cafe established itself now rather than later.
And if they do, it will be good for society. Like many small businesses here, McKee is optimistic about Hazel Park’s future (“Ask any real estate agent. It’s not a myth,” he says) while still trying to create a place that welcomes both new and established residents. That’s why Hazel Perk is more than a coffee shop, it’s a community gathering place, hosting open coffee discussion sessions with city officials, featuring local artists, and creating an atmosphere that feels as comfortable as a living room as a business.
“A lot of people want to think of it as just a coffee house or something like that. It’s not,” McKee says. “We have a real food menu. We do art premieres all the time. We host new artists, we have shopping. We hold events, many events. We have drag queen bingo, an art gallery, arts and crafts for local families, things like that. Every Tuesday there is figure painting with live models. Tuesday is game night and open mic night. Thursday night is our free movie night. There are live bands on Friday nights. Various events are held on Saturdays and Sundays; we will have a mid-century antiques market this Saturday.”
“It’s a real hodgepodge,” he says.