What are Amy and Kevin Murphy cooking up at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula? Lots! We check in with the couple, who owns New Bohemian Cafe in Northport and recently rented the historic Omena Bay Country Store in neighboring Omena.
You might know Amy and Kevin Murphy from New Bohemian Café in Northport (more on that darling spot in a moment). This spring, the couple took on a second venture, renting the historic Omena Bay Country Store from owner Donald Leathery Jr. who is renovating the entire property. Constructed in the late 1880s, the building has always been home to a general store, originally named P.R. Barth General Merchandise. The Murphys plan to carry on the legacy, offering light grocery items, grab-and-go food, wine, beer, liquor, cottage and campsite essentials and “some special gifts for people to be able to take a little memory of Omena back home,” Amy says.
Amy tells us more:
Tell us about you! What brought you to Leelanau County?
We’ve lived here full time for seven years. Kevin’s grandfather’s childhood best friend had a summer place in Northport, so Kevin’s family came to visit every summer during his childhood. When we moved back to Michigan from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, Kevin showed me around his old stomping grounds, and we began to visit as often as we could (at the time we lived in the Grand Rapids area). By 2010, we bought some land with the intent to build there, and in 2014, we moved to the village of Northport. (Still haven’t built that house!) We often joke that Northport chose us, but it really did just feel like home, and a good place to become entrepreneurs and raise our family.
Was running a cafe always the dream or did the right opportunity just present itself?
We both spent time serving coffee, drinks and food when we were younger. My first job was as a barista and I used to daydream with my little sister about owning a cafe someday. Kevin took his first steps into the kitchen side when he opened the Earth, Wind & Fryer food truck in Northport back in 2014 with a college friend/chef. I think we have always wanted to spend our time working with food, and our dreams have touched on farming, the cafe and beyond. When we moved here, Kevin had been in journalism and broadcast media and nonprofit management for a decade, and I was a communications/marketing consultant, and we both wanted to get back to our roots in food and drink. It seemed the most tangible and sustainable way to connect the things we love so much about the culture and the bounty of this place, and share it with the people around us.
Omena Bay Country Store: What’s the planned opening date?
The opening date is still a moving target, but we plan to be open in June.
What’s being renovated?
The building owner, Don Leathery, is renovating the whole property. The building is getting its 120-year tune-up. The residential parts (there’s a house attached to the store and an apartment upstairs) were gutted down to the studs and got new wiring, mechanicals, insulation, etc. In the store, Leathery upgraded the heat and lighting and did some wiring, and gave it a fresh coat of paint and refinished floors. We took on a “white box,” and designed the store layout and brought in all the equipment and fixtures.
What products are you planning to stock?
We will be building on the legacy of the general store in Omena. There’s been a general store at that location since 1889. We will carry light grocery, grab-and-go food, wine, beer, liquor, household/cottage/campsite essentials and some special gifts for people to be able to take a little memory of Omena back home. It really will be a country store. You’ll be able to pick up a paper and a pound of coffee, and hotdogs and a pint of ice cream, or a six-pack and a few grab-and-go sandwiches. The constraints of the space (in short, there’s no plumbing in the store!) mean that we’ll really be beginning with retail. We know a lot of people are hoping for coffee—we’re sort of known for that as the owners of the cafe in Northport—but we’re going to crawl before we walk and run. We’ll start out with brewed coffee, and as we get to know what the community of Omena really wants and needs, and get a feel for what is sustainable, we’ll grow into it from there. (We are working on some special roasts to bring to the store for sale by the pound!)
What are you most excited about at the store?
There is so much to be excited about. We are really looking forward to getting to know the community better and learning what the needs are, and we’re really happy to have the opportunity to bring our passion for helping people celebrate life with food and drink to a retail setting. We know it will be different than what we’ve experienced in Northport, and we have already had such a warm welcome from Omena. We think this is going to be a really fun and fulfilling way to further deepen our roots in northern Leelanau. Plus, that curve is just so special. I have always had a soft spot for it in my heart.
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Photo by Dave Weidner
Okay, now on to New Bohemian Cafe (pictured above). You opened in spring 2019, what’s changed since then?
Haha. What hasn’t changed?! When we opened in 2019, we thought we’d become a deli/market, coffee shop and wine bar. At the time our friends’ tasting room (Baia Estate wines) was co-located with the cafe, and we had all sorts of charcuterie boards and whatnot. The sandwich and coffee business turned out to be what Northport most craved, and when the pandemic started last March (we were not yet a year old), we really took stock of what mattered most to us, our community and our ability to survive as a business. We pared back to the bare essentials last summer, serving just the coffee drinks and switching sandwiches up to fresh-made instead of deli grab-and-go style. We eliminated grocery, deli and the wine collaboration, and we replaced our indoor seating with a temporary patio. We also added online ordering and curbside pickup, and totally redid our internal processes. We took a short break in April to retool the space, bringing back a little room for grocery and retail, and increased our capacity to keep up with sandwich orders. Compared to that first year, we have expanded our breakfast selection, we have a full lineup of made-to-order sandwiches and we still have our full espresso/coffee/tea menu. We’re bringing back grocery and a little retail, and we’ll be adding green/entree salads as the weather warms up. We’re not offering indoor seating, but the patio is open.
We know the coffee is much-loved. Tell us about your offerings.
We have a full espresso menu, along with brewed coffee and a selection of matcha, chai and loose-leaf teas. We love that smooth, traditional espresso profile, so we worked with our roaster to create a blend that evokes a timeless sidewalk cafe. Our most popular coffee drink is a latte (espresso topped with steamed milk and a little bit of velvety foam). We also have a honey cardamom latte that’s beloved—Julius Kolarik’s honey (the bees feed on the orchards and meadows at that farmland we bought back in 2010!) and ground cardamom bloomed in espresso and topped with steamed milk. We can make most traditional espresso drinks, although our posted menu is simplified just to keep it user-friendly.
Are there some seasonal summer offerings you’re especially excited about,?
For sure. We love the Caprese—Leelanau heirloom tomatoes and basil with fresh mozzarella—and we’ll have that back on the menu as soon as tomatoes start to come in. They are absolutely incredible in the late summer. We’ll also be bringing back the Cherry Pecan Chicken Salad Croissant, and I bet we’ll add a new special here and there. We’re also excited about adding green salads into the mix.
If you had to choose one favorite baked good on your menu, what would it be?
Chocolate chip cookie, hands down. We brown the butter, so it has this really delicious caramel-ly undertone to it. And we make them as big as your head, so what’s not to love?!
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Baked goods are all made in-house, some in collaboration with 9 Bean Rows—tell us how that partnership works.
Yeah, we love our friends over at 9 Bean Rows. We work with them on our croissants, because let’s face it, they make the best ones around! They make the dough and form the pastries for us, and we bake them fresh every morning. We also get creative sometimes, and add toppings (like our Tart Cherry Cream Cheese turnover) or put a twist on it, depending on what fancy strikes us. It allows us to support our local foodshed, our fellow producers and to have really great, really fresh baked goods every day.
What’s it like being small business owners in a small town—is there this sense of looking out for each other?
Well, we can only speak for our own experiences, but yes, we love being business owners in this community. We have strong relationships with many of the other businesses in Northport, and in other parts of Leelanau and Grand Traverse. We happily send customers to each others’ establishments, we lend each other equipment, we do what we can to help each other succeed. We even try to coordinate our winter breaks, so that there’s at least one place to eat in Northport! For a community like Northport, we’re all better off for having these other businesses around us. It’s better for our community, it’s better for people who come to visit and it’s better for our own businesses to have a thriving downtown. We all know that, and we all understand what it takes to be here, day after day and year after year. There are always businesses that don’t participate in that relationship, and that’s ok, too. It’s not like you have to join a club to be in business in Northport. But it is really nice to work within a network of friends.
Is there anything else you want to share?
We have something so very special here in Leelanau County. We hope people can feel that connection, and find it in themselves to become part of that specialness. Whether you live here or visit, we hope you’ll take a moment to be kind. Appreciate the beauty of the world around you, from the stones beneath your feet to the people you interact with to the foods and drinks you taste.
Omena Bay Country Store
5505 West Bayshore, Omena
Grocery, Wine, Beer, Liquor, Ice, Grab-and-Go Food, Gifts
New Bohemian Cafe
110 Waukazoo St, Northport
Order in person, online or by phone at 231.386.1034. Patio dining & takeout only.