Before Starbucks arrived here, the Kava House was already brewing.
In fact, the Kava House became the city’s first neighborhood coffeehouse and café when the mother-and-daughter team of Pam Murray and Leigh Vander Molen opened the still-popular business in Eastown back in February 1993.
“We were the first," Vander Molen said. "No one really knew what to do with us. We went to the health department to get a permit, and they didn’t know what to do with us. They gave us to the agriculture department, because they said, ‘Well, you’re selling beans, so let’s give you to the agriculture department.
“We were just like the island of misfit toys," she added. "No one knew what to do with us, and now, it’s just a way of life for everyone."
Murray and Vander Molen will celebrate that way of life on Thursday — Valentine’s Day — when the Kava House, at 1445 Lake Drive SE, marks 20 years of grinding coffee beans, baking scones and serving as a gathering place where customers have consistently discussed solving the world’s most challenging dilemmas for the past two decades.
And this is also a very special anniversary for Murray and Vander Molen.
“It’s really quite unbelievable," Vander Molen said. "I really can’t believe that it’s been 20 years. For the very first time, we are actually going to privately celebrate as a family. We’re usually chugging along and having parties in the store on our anniversaries.
"But this year, for the first time, we’re going to go out and pat ourselves on the back,” she said. “We’ll go out for dinner and enjoy ourselves.”
The Kava House will continue its yearly anniversary tradition on Thursday by offering free cake, a price rollback on some items and giving a special gift to one lucky customer.
This year the 20th customer on Valentine’s Day will win a $20 gift certificate to the Kava House.
“Then, we do giveaways all day long,” Vander Molen said.
The Kava House will open as usual on Thursday at 7 a.m.
Twenty years is certainly an accomplishment to savor, especially when it’s a groundbreaking business, but both mom and daughter are hoping they can do at least another 20 years in Eastown.
“Oh gosh, yes,” Vander Molen said. “If we can handle it and if Grand Rapids will have us, we’ll do it.”