DJ Coffee in the House

Downtown coffeehouse offers typical accoutrements plus its secret sauce: a D.I.Y. DJ booth.

Jun 5, 2013 at 12:00 am

Next time you’re downtown walking along Griswold Street, and a hankering for coffee hits you, an establishment called the “Grind” might seem a fitting place to stop — if you want a lap dance with your latte; instead look across the street and find Urban Bean Co.

Located on Griswold and Grand River — across the street from the aforementioned Grind — Urban Bean is holds the position as both a new coffee shop (it is more a reopening as the first iteration closed in 2008) and a mini studio for anyone who wants to spin a record.

Owners Josh Greenwood and Ed Segal, both music lovers, have a positive outlook for their little shop. Its mid-century interior, with a copper counter and orange paint, mixes ’60s and ’70s in an oddly harmonious way. Tall windows, which make up the building’s facade, fill the shop with sun. The unique component, though, is to be found upstairs: a DJ booth with open turntables, available to anyone who wants to play, regardless of talent.

“We’re into music,” Greenwood says, focusing on a more mundane aspect of owning a coffeehouse: scrubbing down the milk steamer. “It’s a great space. I don’t care if you wanna come play at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., my doors are open.”

Part of the inspiration for this coffee shop cum turntables is the space’s predecessor, Save the Vinyl record shop. The other part, explains Greenwood, is that techno started across the street from Urban Bean.

Asked whether he’s been known to spin a record, Greenwood replies demurely, “I just provide the environment,” as he poured fresh coffee for a customer. “If I was [a disc jockey], my name would be DJ Train Wreck.”

How one falls into owning a coffeehouse that features a DJ booth is, as Greenwood says, a matter of happenstance. It’s not like he or his partner dreamt of one day dominating the disc jockey scene, or being principals of a retail establishment.

When Greenwood was young, he says he wanted to be a racecar driver. However, he says what set his path in motion should be credited to a longtime Detroit legend of the airwaves: The Electrifying Mojo.

A Detroit disk jockey in the ’80s, The Electrifying Mojo has been credited with shaping a generation of music lovers — and one of the main reasons Detroit techno took off.

As a teenager, Greenwood says he would stay up late at night listening to Mojo on WGPR and its exhilarating new music until his mother would barge into his bedroom and shut the radio off, yelling at him to go to bed.

Greenwood describes how helping a friend build a climbing wall in an Eastern Market loft gave him a taste of what city life could be. He says later that same day he broke up with his girlfriend, knowing she wouldn’t move to the city with him, and the day after that, he moved to Eastern Market, himself.

After working on the Chrysler line for two decades, Greenwood says he and his business partner are very happy with what they opened. And, perusing the bustle of this caffeine den, with customers in the upstairs lounge sitting and reading their books, or browsing on their laptops, teas and specialty coffees in hand, it’s hard to not be happy with a place like the Urban Bean Co.

“It’s so cool we can have a place to go and try out our talent to see if it works without the pressure of a thousand people judging us or hating us,” said Ellen, a local DJ who only goes by her first name and is trying to get her feet wet in the music world. “It’s like the perfect stepping stone to see if our music will work in a bigger venue.”


Jason Singer is an undergraduate at University of Michigan and a Metro Times summer intern. Send comments to [email protected]