Cultivating Community with a Cup of Coffee

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Back in 2012, Matthew Fuller knew three things: he wanted to spend more time with his family, had a deep love for coffee and always dreamed of owning his own business. Two weeks before his first child was born, Fuller opened a coffee cart in the Waters Building and named it Grace Coffee.

While the initial plan was to add more coffee carts in various office and medical buildings throughout Grand Rapids, Fuller began receiving calls for catering. Due to the high demand, Fuller saw that Grace Coffee was no longer just a coffee cart company and decided to rebrand.

“We still have a big passion for coffee so instead of coffee being directly in the name, we kind of hid it in the name,” Fuller said. “The slang term for coffee is mud, and coffee shops about 500 years ago in England were called penny universities so we took those two words, put them together and have MudPenny.”

MudPenny took its name from the first coffee shops, which were called penny universities.
MudPenny took its name from the first coffee shops, which were called penny universities.

After opening his first café at 570 Grandville Ave. this December, Fuller hopes the coffee bar/restaurant hybrid will take after penny universities and be a place where people, no matter their background, can cultivate their creativity and develop new relationships.

“The reason why they’re called penny universities is that coffee shops at that time were the only places not segregated by class. People just had to pay a penny to get in, and the rich and the poor would learn from each other. So that’s where the nickname ‘university’ came from. With us being in an inner-city type neighborhood like this, we’re excited for the people in the downtown area to be invited into this community and for this community to also learn from other cultures as well,” Fuller said.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, MudPenny specializes in a variety of artisanal sandwiches, salads and small plates. The café will also serve house-made craft sodas and a coffee bar.

In addition to a selection of organic meats, MudPenny’s menu aims to provide an assortment of vegan and vegetarian-focused items with locally sourced produce. Fuller recommends trying MudPenny’s Big Bad Wolf sandwich, its popular Apple Walnut salad and its homemade Wonuts, which are waffled donuts.

MudPenny offers several food options, including vegetarian and vegan fare.
MudPenny offers several food options, including vegetarian and vegan fare.

After falling in love with the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, Fuller plans to donate 1 percent of all sales to various nonprofits and community organizations on a quarterly basis. “We’re trying not to come from the standpoint like we’re here and know everything and want to make it better, but we really just want to partner with what people are already doing. There are a lot of really good organizations that are already doing a lot of good in the community,” Fuller said.

As for the future, Fuller’s dream is far from over. While MudPenny’s goal is to spend 2019 establishing itself within the neighborhood, 2020 is the year Fuller hopes to expand MudPenny’s reach through the addition of multiple locations around Grand Rapids.

MudPenny is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information, visit MudPenny’s website.

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