Jam 'N' Bean Revitalizes Historic Cascade Building E-mail
by John Sinkevics

Doug and Paul Lee’s dramatic transformation of a long-vacant, 157-year-old building on Cascade Road SE into the gleaming new Jam ’n’ Bean coffeehouse with an elevated, outdoor concert deck seems impressive in its own right.

dougtomandpaulleeJamNBean But the brothers’ mission for the cafe and 200-seat “Cascade on the Boardwalk” entertainment deck may be just as extraordinary: 10 percent of proceeds from Jam ’n’ Bean go to support the Forest Hills Central Band Boosters to help bolster struggling school band programs.

And just as important, the coffeehouse and 3,000-square-foot deck have become a rallying point of sorts for the Forest Hills community, with young high school rock bands joining other local musicians in getting a chance to strut their stuff for audiences, often for the first time.

“People are star-struck by it,” co-owner Doug Lee says of the lighted deck and stage, which officially opened in June behind the coffeehouse at 6860 Cascade Road SE, just south of Old 28th Street SE. “It’s sort of re-generated and revitalized things. … It’s a beautiful environment in the woods.”

Jam ’n’ Bean hosts several evenings of entertainment every week, with 6:30 p.m. open-mic nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays followed by showings of outdoor movies on the deck. Fridays – and occasional Saturdays – also feature live music and a family flick, with food from an outdoor grill available; the Grand River Folk Arts Society holds regular contra dances on the deck on Wednesdays.

And on Aug. 17-18, Jam ’n’ Bean will host its first-ever Battle of the Bands, with proceeds going to support the Forest Hills Theater Group and Access of West Michigan’s upcoming Countywide Food Drive. The winner of the contest will receive a $400 shopping spree at Guitar Center. (For details, go to jamnbean.com/battle).

bandonJamNBeandeck The café itself, which opened in mid-April, features fresh-roasted coffee, bakery and light breakfast items, sandwiches, soups and fruit smoothies, served in a distinctive 1,200-square-foot space that seats up to 41 people.

That space, however, took plenty of elbow grease and hard work to create.

Originally built in 1855 as a carriage house and blacksmith shop, the building had been used most recently as a real estate office but sat vacant for six years before the Lees purchased the property to house their Taro Systems Inc. real estate software business.

“It was just an eyesore,” recalls Lee, noting the brothers did much of the renovation work themselves.

Taro only occupies part of the building, so the brothers decided they would use the extra space to create a community of sorts by opening a coffeehouse and music venue – a way of establishing a safe hangout for high school students that would also re-energize their interest in music.

All of Doug Lee’s four children have been involved in Forest Hills Central band programs over the years (his son, Tom, now works fulltime at Jam ’n’ Bean), and he’s a longtime parent volunteer with the marching band.

But due partly to new state curriculum mandates, student participation in band has fallen off and Lee recognized the need to raise funds for the program to help boost numbers. Indeed, by next year, Doug Lee hopes Jam ’n’ Bean can fully fund summer band camp for Forest Hills Central students.

“I’ve always found my calling to be working with kids (to get them) to express themselves in a more positive way,” he says. “If you can keep them into music, it’s just much better. The outcome is much better.”

His brother, Paul, puts it this way: “I’m 46 years old, and at some point, it’s time to give back. To me, it’s rewarding.”

The coffeehouse and Cascade on the Boardwalk also have become community gathering areas, with families stopping by for concerts and movies, and various clubs and groups holding regular meetings at Jam ’n’ Bean.

“To feel the energy,” Doug Lee says, “is really cool.”

For a full schedule and more information about Jam ’n’ Bean, visit the café’s website at jamnbean.com

Veteran music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at www.localspins.com, and spotlights artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW).


Published: August 2, 2012

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