The Rapidian

24 hour coffee house serves spicy drinks, cultural food

Mayan Buzz Cafe is showcasing tastes of Central America through sandwiches, tea and coffee, all the while emphasizing the value of the city's youth.

Mayan Buzz Cafe

Open 24 hours every day

208 Grandville Avenue SW

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Mayan Buzz Latte

Mayan Buzz Latte /Dan Steenwyk

Marcos Bulnes Medina and Mary Rose

Marcos Bulnes Medina and Mary Rose /Dan Steenwyk

Coffee bags hanging from the ceiling. All coffee comes from Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters.

Coffee bags hanging from the ceiling. All coffee comes from Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters. /Dan Steenwyk

In 2012, the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world.

Two years later, one Mayan man wants to spread a different message.

“[The Mayans] are still here,” says Marco Bulnes Medina. “People said we were done in 2012. I want to show there’s a Mayan modern.”

Medina, who was born in Honduras, co-owns Mayan Buzz Café with Mary Rose. The 24-hour café and tea house, located across the street from Founders at 208 Grandville Avenue, is the only around-the-clock coffee location in the downtown area. They’re also the only coffee house serving fair-trade, organic drinks with a dash of Mayan spice alongside food prepared in Central American traditions.

“Many of our drinks have spice or flavor from nature, and we have tamales from midnight to 4 a.m. and baleadas all the time,” says Medina. “Baleadas are like the rice and beans of coffee and food. They’re just perfect for each other.”

The café has a Central American lunch special every day, and all of their sandwiches are available at any time. The owners are eager to teach people about Central American cultural traditions and foods, and recently hosted a group of Grand Valley students before a study abroad trip to El Salvador. As students sampled El Salvadorian cuisine, a Grand Rapids local originally from El Salvador (who is also the Mayan Buzz electrician) answered questions that students had about the region.

“Young people are changing the concept of what North America used to be by embracing minority and outside cultures. We’re providing a bridge for that,” says Medina.

The café also hosts an open-mic poetry night every Thursday. Younger people make up the majority of the performers.

“[Young people] are able to express themselves in a safe manner here and not feel like they’re going to be looked down on or judged,” says Rose. “We have some people that get up and are super nervous because they’ve never done it before. At the end you can see them blossoming because the crowd affirms what they did was important.”

Medina says that part of the café’s purpose is to provide a space where young people can be themselves and feel respected. Medina’s empathy for young people originates from his upbringing in Honduras. His mother died when he was 7 years old and Medina, the eldest of his family, had to help raise his siblings. Medina says he plans to return to Honduras within the next five years to open a children’s clinic.

“You get to a point in life when you ask, ‘Did I live with a purpose?’” he says. “After seeing the suffering I went through as a little kid in Honduras, I want to go back and help change that culture. If you don’t help change the culture to be better the world will continue going in a negative direction.”

Mayan Buzz Cafe has been going strong for six months now. Medina and Rose credit their success to their financial partner, Shannon Nielsen, and to the support of surrounding businesses and to their customer base. Medina spent the first six months working a 12-hour shift every day and only recently has lessened his hours. Now Mayan Buzz is hiring.

“These young people are coming in to do a job where they’ll be taught about levels of respect and trust and we’ll get to watch them blossom,” Medina beams. “That’s a source of pride.”   

Medina hopes to split time between Honduras and Grand Rapids after the children’s clinic opens. Right now, he wants people to know that they always have somewhere they can go for coffee and sandwiches in Grand Rapids.

“Oddly enough, you can usually see someone in here all 24 hours,” he grins. “Anytime is buzz time.”

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