Reviving Detroit Through Locally Made Coffee

By Lauren Ebelt on July 14th, 2013 / Comments

“All roads lead to Detroit,” says AJ O’Neill.

O’Neill’s enthusiasm is one that parallels many of Michigan’s residents who believe that the great motor city will thrive once again. Part of the revival efforts of Detroit stems from an unlikely place: coffee.

In 2007, O’Neill opened AJ’s Music Café in Ferndale, MI. The café soon catapulted to worldwide fame when the first Danny Boy Marathon was held in honor of O’Neill’s father. The marathon was held in 2008; over 1,000 musicians played their own renditions of the Irish song for 50 straight hours. The marathon was the subject of a book (“In Sunlight or in Shadow” by Karen Wilhem with a forward by the late Ernie Harwell) and was also mentioned on Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Later on for a different concert, they also broke the Guinness World Record for longest concert to worldwide media coverage.

With all of the attention, the café became known as the “little café that bailed out the automotive industry, one coffee cup at a time.” The coffee was called Detroit Bold, and when O’Neill closed the doors on the café in 2012, the coffee lived on.


Locally Brewed in Highland Park

The line of coffee is now under the brand name AJ’sCoffeeWorks – found at O’Neill is at the helm of the brand as the Chief Bean Officer (CBO). The coffee is sold in stores throughout Michigan and on the website.

The coffee has been roasted since 1914 by the Becharas Brother’s Coffee Company in Highland Park, truly making this a pure Michigan product.

Donating Back to Detroit Repairs

This coffee is special in more than just its potency or its name. The product is also helping to restore the city. AJ’sCoffeeWorks offers fundraisers for two of its five types of coffee that go directly to supporting integral areas of the Detroit community.

The Woodward Ave. blend celebrates the spirit of the 27-mile long road that connects Detroit to Pontiac and to many other places along the way. The industrial assembly line was started on Woodward Ave., as well as other notable innovations such as the first electrical stoplight and the first successful heart pump for open-heart surgery. A portion of the sales of each bag of the blend goes to the Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3) and their efforts to preserve the Ford Highland Park Plant & Crystal Palace. More information for the preservation efforts can be found at

The Solar Blend French Roast supports Highland Park with its sales. Portions of the sales from the blend go to benefit Soludarity – a campaign to install 200 streetlights in Highland Park. The campaign was started after Highland Park lost over 1,000 of its streetlights due to unpaid electrical bills in 2011. The campaign hopes to spark some change to bring the neighborhood back.

Other blends by AJ’sCoffeeWorks include their Columbian Espresso, Vienna Roast, 1701 French Roast and decaf blends. By accessing the company’s store at, you can buy bags individually, or in a variety pack to experience all of the tastes of Detroit.

“Detroit is more than just a city,” O’Neill says. “It is a can-do spirit that is imbued with grit, determination, hard work and color-blind dedication. It will not be silenced. It is, like the coffee that bears its name, Detroit Bold.”

To learn more about AJ’sCoffeeWorks, or to purchase some coffee that carries passion for one of America’s greatest cities right in its name, please visit

About the Author

Lauren Ebelt

Lauren is a recent graduate from Michigan State University. She likes traveling, blogging about the food she eats, and correct grammar.