Benton Harbor coffee shop finds a way to reopen during lead crisis

NOW: Benton Harbor coffee shop finds a way to reopen during lead crisis

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Forte Coffee's Benton Harbor location opened in September 2020, and found itself closed after a water main broke on October 21, and found itself unable to use the city tap water to make their coffee. 

“When we serve a coffee, about 99% of it is water," said owner Brian Maynard. "So it’s really critical to be safe and to have the right kind of water.”

When the water main burst, service was cut off to the city, though it was restored the next day. A boil order was put in place because bacteria can enter the system during repairs. 

The boil order has since been lifted and no bacteria was detected in Forte's water, but Maynard was not given the okay to use the tap water at his coffee shop, even though there are no lead pipes leading to his business. 

“We’re standing in the Arts District here, downtown, and all of the water lines in this area were replaced in the last fifteen to twenty years,” said Maynard. 

The water lines on Water Street, where Forte is located, had been replaced in 2007, and according to the building's landlord, the lead pipes had been replaced in the late 1990s. Still, the Berrien County Health Department asked Maynard to get his water tested by a certified lab, which could take five to six business days to get those results. 

Not wanting to be closed- and losing sales-- any longer, Maynard came up with a system allowing him to get his shop back up and running. 

“Using two independent pumps, we’re bringing in water in five gallon containers," said Maynard. "I have one setup on my espresso machine and one set up on my hot water dispenser and coffee brewer, so we’re finally able to make coffee now.”

The workaround allowing Forte to finally reopen after eight days of being shut down. Maynard understands the necessity of keeping people safe during the lead crisis, but wishes there was more communication between the Health Department and local businesses to keep them from having to close their doors. 

“Its been, frankly, a little frustrating," he said. "I get that we have an old infrastructure here. I get that this is a city that is challenged with finances, and I have empathy for that. In fact that’s one of the reasons I wanted to open a business over here because I wanted to be part of the solution. I want to be a part of helping this area to grow.”

On October 29, Cornerstone Alliance announced that it would pay for any Benton Harbor businesses that needs to have its water tested for lead-- however, Maynard had already submitted his test sample to a lab in Niles before the official announcement and paid for it himself. 

His test results did come in on Monday; any lead detected in his water was well below the standard, according to Maynard. 


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