You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

lab: New coffee shop on East Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor offers urban setting

By Erica Hobbs


Patrons enjoy coffee, yogurt and free Wi-Fi at lab, which officially opened Tuesday in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ryan Stanton |

When the owners of Ann Arbor’s newest coffee shop and yogurt bar were students at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, they said they wanted to create an urban space for young professionals and graduate students.

Now, after nearly a year in the making, lab (yes, that's all lowercase) has opened at 505 E. Liberty St. in McKinley Towne Centre in downtown Ann Arbor.

“We wanted to create that third place, the escape, the place where you chill,” co-owner Joanna Hong said. “We love Ann Arbor but we thought something was missing.”


Co-owner Tobias Wacker stands behind the counter of lab, which opened Tuesday in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ryan Stanton |

Hong said she and co-owner Tobias Wacker wanted to create a modern, hip hangout such as the kind found more often in big cities such as Hong’s native Chicago or Los Angeles, where Wacker attended undergraduate school. William Chang, a third co-owner, lives in New York and helped develop the business’ financial plan.

“He’s very much an entrepreneurial spirit,” Hong said.

Hong and Wackers’ modern design is full of sharp angles, open spaces and an overall sense of simplicity. It was designed by Karl Daubmann and Craig Borum of Ply Architecture in Kerrytown. Alex Timmer, also with Ply Architecture, built the furniture.

The shop’s big windows are some of the few things that break up its empty white walls, while custom-made square, wooden furniture provide sleek seating for customers. The café's lime-green ceiling and subtle accents add an element of color to the otherwise very basic décor.

“Even if it’s dreary outside, it’s bright in here,” Wacker said. “If you come to lab, you should be a little bit happier when you leave. That’s the premise of what we’re trying to do.”


Lab's yogurt bar includes 16 different types of toppings including fresh fruit, granola and candy.

Ryan Stanton |

In addition to a full range of coffee, tea and espresso drinks, lab offers a frozen yogurt bar of four rotating flavors complete with an option of up to 16 toppings ranging from granola, fresh fruit and candy.

In the morning, lab features a cereal bar including childhood favorites such as Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, as well as a variety of granola.

“We’ve got both the sugary and the healthy,” Hong said. “You can totally customize it to your taste.”

Hong said customer service is an important aspect of lab, where patrons are able to not only choose their coffee but also the degree of graininess and amount of beans used in the brew.

“We want to talk to them about our products and store,” she said. “We want to take our time with them.”

Hong and Wacker also want to help promote local artists and businesses. Most of their yogurt toppings and baked goods come from local suppliers, including products from Barry’s Bagels, Tasty Footprints, Café Japon, Taste Our Goods, Frog Holler Produce and Washtenaw Dairy.

he owners also hope to feature community and student-made films on a movie projector, which displays images directly behind the barista counter.

“We just want to promote media and art,” Hong said.

Still in its beginning stages, Hong said she and Wacker were still experimenting with the shop, hence its name “lab.”

She said the shop is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. but that could change, depending on demand.

“It’s a first business for us all,” she said. “We’re definitely looking forward to learning and getting better. It’s a growing process for us.”

Erica Hobbs is a reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2537 or via e-mail at



Mon, Mar 29, 2010 : 2 p.m.

I have actually found myself frequenting Burger King since the ERC on my way to work closed down. Their coffee is not that bad for a fast food chain, reasonably priced, at a good temperature and the drive through is never that busy in the morning.


Mon, Mar 29, 2010 : 12:48 p.m.

Comet Coffee's is an experience and I salute them for their esoteric productions! Definitely go and order a cup of joe. However, if I NEED a cup of coffee because I am out, I will gladly go to Starbucks (which opens at 7:30am M-S)or Dunk'in Donuts! Coffee from both of these establishments is much improved and consistent. Yum!


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 11:30 p.m.

I think this commentary says more about the obsessiveness of the posters than it does about the quality of the various coffees. Not sure this is a good thing (or a bad thing), just puzzling.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 11:07 p.m.

In any case, good luck to them. That particular little block seems to be cursed with significant storefront turnover for some reason.

C. Pan

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 6:59 p.m.

The space looks nice! As far as locally roasted beans go, Roos Roast is the best.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 4:19 p.m.

I wonder if opening @ 8:00 AM is early enough with Starbucks and the others nearby since its a coffee shop? Lot's of java seekers out there @ 7:00 AM. Good time for yogurt and granola though!

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 2 p.m.

As far as coffee goes, freshness is what matters. Sure, it helps to source good beans to begin with, and know which beans will compliment each other in a blend, but if it sits on a shelf for two weeks after it's roasted, none of that matters. I buy my coffee at Hashem Roastery in Dearborn (on Warren near Schaefer). It's $8/lb, and it's seriously good. Turnover is high, so it's always fresh. It helps that they only have two options, so they don't have less-popular bins that take several days to empty. The mixed nuts are great too.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 2 p.m.

You can grow coffee in Michigan? I had no idea. I thoguht it was all near the equator stuff.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 1:51 p.m.

NCTerry: When Comet decides to start offering local beans then I'll be impressed. So far they don't, to my knowledge, seem to think that any are up to the level of other coffees they can obtain. (And no, I'm not affiliated with Comet either.)


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 1:30 p.m.

Too many restaurants on Main Street and too many Coffee shops on Liberty and State street. More then half will close soon enough!


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 1:18 p.m.

Ann Arbor NEEDS more coffee shops and restaurants in that area.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 1:16 p.m.

so urban, so trendy. perfect for students.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 12:59 p.m.

I can only hope they realize a latte ain't just hot milk n pushed expresso. The lads at Morgan and York might give them a lesson or two.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 12:37 p.m.

Deciding what constitutes "good coffee" is a very subjective thing. If you don't like a particular bean, blend or roast, that's fine. But to say that there is "no artisan-grade coffee being roasted in town" is a little hard to believe. Besides, "artisan" has more to do with the process than the end result. I know for a fact that Zingerman's coffee is produced in a truly artisan fashion, and the end result will stand up against any in the nation (I'm referring to the whole beans rather than the brewed product). Full disclosure: I am a former employee of Zingerman's. However, I don't only buy from them and I have tried most of the local products and a fair number of national offerings. Some of the local products are mediocre, but I will challenge anyone to prove that they can tell the difference between a Zing roast and any other in the US using similar beans, roast and preparation. I don't think anyone but a roaster could reliably tell the difference between the products of ANY of the high-end products like Zing, Pete's and Intelligensia. I also think some of the roasts from other locals could stand up to the scrutiny as well. Finally, to say that Zingerman's has "dumbed down" anything regarding food or drink in A2 borders on the ridiculous. Don't like'em? Think they charge too much? Understandable. Contributing to making things worse? Preposterous!


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 11:44 a.m.

I wish them well. Odds are so high against most businesses succeeding, those that do are to be commended. They'll have a tough road ahead if the urban hipsters hang out for hours and buy $3 worth of product. Can anyone tell me the fascination A2 has with Chicago? Accept that we're a college town, not an trendy urban locale.

David Paris

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 11:37 a.m.

lab has an awesome business model (check out their web sites) and I expect them to do well. At first I thought it ironic that a business (incubator) like this was not a brain child of an MBA grad, but of a Taubman School grad. Then I thought, well an MBA grad is taught to profit first, and ask questions later, where as an Urban Planning student is taught how to solve urban social issues, and improve living conditions in a community- it all makes sense now!


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 11:25 a.m.

Coffee Express, of Plymouth, roasts the finest coffee, in my opinion. I have been a devoted customer since Tommy started roasting 30 or so years ago. I think the all Ann Arbor staff should be supported with your patronage. It would be great to see lab become as cool a place to hang out as Tommy's Blind Pig Or Mark's Coffee Shop were back in the old days.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 10:42 a.m.

Well, they can use Intellegentsia's coffees all they want, but, d other baristi actually know howto use the espresso machines? Can they pull a shot as well as the guys at Comet Coffee? I wonder if they can meet the standards that hard-core coffee-geeks seek, i.e. shots pulled that are as good as good as Intellegentsia in Chicago, or Stumptown in POrtland, or cafe Vivache/Victrola/Zoka in Seattle. Jus' thinking out aloud. Becasue ERC and Sweetwaters and Zing's sure have dumbed down what passes for good coffee in A2. (Disclaimer- I am not affiliated with Comet Coffee, except as a customer)

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 10:40 a.m.

@81wolverine: No, it isn't becoming like Seattle because (and call me a snob if you want, but) the only Seattle-quality coffee place in town is still Comet. @Erica: Well, I haven't been to lab yet, but please realize that simply using a certain brand doesn't guarantee that coffee is brewed/extracted properly. @Adam: Unfortunately there's still no artisan-grade coffee being roasted in town.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 9:33 a.m.

Can I bring my labs? lol

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

Intelligentsia is good stuff. It would be nice if they went with something local, though.

Erica Hobbs

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 8:56 a.m.

Lab uses Intelligentsia coffee and tea products.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

What's missing in most coffee shops is the good coffee! The best coffee I've had in Ann Arbor is Roos Roast - by far! If lab is not using locally roasted coffee, they should be. Promote and support local businesses like Roos Roast.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 8:13 a.m.

Yes, but how's the coffee?

Jennifer Shikes Haines

Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 7:33 a.m.

I loved the look of this place - can't wait to try it! Also glad they're showcasing Taste Our Goods - Nora and Susie sure know how to bake! (And make sandwiches, etc.)


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 6:53 a.m.

Wow, another coffee place? It's starting to become like Seattle around here. I hope they do well.