Voyager Coffee Plans Winter Opening for Manufacturing Site, Café

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The owner of Voyager Specialty Coffee & Teas acknowledged he is being optimistic when he says that Voyager and his new Trek Coffeehouse will be operating in new locations in December.

But Levi Smith of Canfield said he is also “somewhat of a realist. So I keep telling people winter, because in Ohio that’s a six-month time period.”

Smith is in the process of preparing 1586 Mahoning Ave. to house Voyager’s production and distribution operations in the 4,300-square-foot space, which is more than four times the size of its current building in Canfield. Voyager brews and cans cold-brew coffees – including Rambler Cold Brew’s Raven Rock, Double Barrell Bourbon and Pathfinder — and imports coffees and teas.

At 1588 Mahoning Ave., he is opening Trek Coffeehouse, which will serve coffees and teas as well as items such as salads, soups and wraps. He has a coffee shop at White House Fruit Farm – which his great-grandfather founded – that his sister operates and which will remain open after Trek begins operations.

“My hope is that, by the end of September, we have all permits and construction started and by November we’re looking at finishing everything,” Smith said. As he awaits final approval of necessary permits, painting and other minor work that doesn’t require the permits is in progress at the two buildings.

Last year, the Western Reserve Port Authority authorized selling the buildings at 1586 and 1588 Mahoning Ave. for $100,000 to Canfield-based Voyager, which announced plans to relocate its operations to the buildings. Smith said he searched for years for a location to open as a brick-and-mortar coffee shop, and explored possibilities in Columbus, Cleveland, Akron and Pittsburgh.
“Nothing panned out,” and he assumed it just wasn’t meant to be, he lamented.

After four years, he focused on Voyager’s wholesale coffee business, which grew quickly and soon maxed out its existing space. “We’ve got more coffee coming in than we can take care of and hold,” he said.

Now scouting a new location for Voyager, Smith said he had heard about Economic Action Group’s commercial property rehabilitation program and contacted EAG’s executive director, Nick Chretien.
EAG and the Western Reserve Port Authority, which EAG leases office space from and where Chretien also works as planning and regional development manager, engaged with Smith in July 2021.

Chretien said a couple of events led him to think the two Mahoning Avenue buildings – which the port authority had been working with the city and county land bank on obtaining and finally acquired last September – would be suitable for Smith.

He recalled an October 2016 “Fall Fest” to spur improvements along the Mahoning Avenue corridor that showcased the exterior of its properties that was held by Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Ray, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and others.

In addition, a pair of studies were released over the next two years – a 2017 report that concluded Youngstown and similar cities faced a “distinct lack of market-ready commercial space for small-scale manufacturing” and a 2019 commercial corridor market analysis that provided a “data-driven investment to support investment in the Mahoning Avenue corridor,” among others in the city.

The 1586 and 1588 Mahoning buildings “were located along a transit-accessible corridor, had immediate north and south highway access to [Interstate] 680,” are located across from an entrance to Mill Creek Park and the neighbors – Casa Ramirez and Hackett’s Pub – “were long-invested complimentary businesses,” Chretien said.

“This is perfect,” Smith recalled thinking at the time. The availability of both buildings provided him the ability to relocate his manufacturing and distribution operation and to realize his long-held dream of opening a coffee shop.

“The more that I started to work with it, the more I wanted to do something to bring these buildings back that have historical value and have these cool features, and provide a space for the community,” he said. In particular, he wants to be able to provide a space for youths to gather after school.

Plans for the roastery building include installing a 12-foot-wide garage door at the front of the building, so the public can see production taking place, Smith said. In addition to serving as production and distribution space, Voyager will host tours and Saturday tastings of coffees and teas that are brought in.

Hosting events to “really show people what we do” as well as having a more visible physical location for Voyager also will help “when I go out and talk to clients,” said Josh Harbin, Voyager brand ambassador.

“We’re trying to peel back the screen on what happens in the food industry,” Smith said. “You’ll be able to see us buzzing around in there, making everything.”

Other plans for the property include the Freight Yard, an industrial-themed, outdoor event space with a shipping-container stage behind the two buildings, as well as Edison lighting between the two buildings for a summertime patio, he said. A roughly 800-foot-by-200-foot parking area west of the buildings also will provide truck access for deliveries.

Smith said he is in discussions regarding potential partnerships with neighboring institutions that serve alcohol, since he doesn’t intend to do so.

Because of supply chain issues and inflation, Smith said he expects the final project cost to be about double his early projections of $100,000 to $150,000. “It’s probably going to be closer to $400,000 or $500,000,” he predicted.

Both Ray and Chretien are optimistic about prospects for the new Mahoning Avenue venture.

“Between Levi’s expertise and the overall plan for the property, I believe they’re poised for success,” Chretien said. “Their investment will offer the dual benefit of growing their business while also contributing to ongoing neighborhood revitalization efforts on the West Side.”

Ray predicted the project would be a “game changer” for the area and showcase the potential for properties along the corridor. “It can be very transformational,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.