Choosing Lansing: Amelia Marschall and John Miller
The road to a life in Lansing started in March of 2006 at Northern Michigan University for Amelia - or Mimi as John calls her - and John. By the time John graduated in May, they were committed to seeing where this relationship would take them. Eventually, that place would be Lansing. But for John, first there would be many stops along the way.
John grew up in Greater Lansing, playing hockey and going to Michigan State University games at Munn Ice Arena as a child. After high school, he played minor league hockey around the U.S. before heading to college. “I wanted to be able to do something more after hockey, so education was really important for me.”
John headed to NMU to -- naturally -- play hockey while majoring in financial planning and entrepreneurship. “The entrepreneurship program really broke it down on how to go about finding funding, doing a business plan... it really gave you all the tools needed to go out into the real world and start a business.”
But before that, more hockey. After college John continued to travel to play pro hockey, including time spent playing in Sweden. In total, he’s lived in eight different cities in the past 13 years, but when injuries started to plague his career, he hung up his skates and dug in to his first entrepreneurial venture, a consulting business called Healthy Path Consultant
But when John drove by the former filling station building in Old Town and saw it was being renovated, a new planned emerged. “I basically called Mimi and said, ‘We’re opening a coffee shop.’”
The fateful 24 hours in April 2011 in which John saw, contacted the owners and secured the future site of Artie’s Filling Station was the fulfillment of a long-time passion. “My entire life I was pretty lucky to travel a lot with hockey and I just fell in love with cafes. It just seemed like such a happy cool place for people to hang out, talk and do what they wanted to do, be who they wanted to be. When I was in Sweden, that’s what we did after practice every day: we went and sat in a café for two or three hours. When I saw the building for the first time, I said, ‘that’s gotta be it.’”
Since then, John has diligently studied all things coffee, traveling several times to Oregon to study at The American Barista and Coffee School
Artie’s Filling Station
-- named after John’s grandfather who used to visit the original filling station with his grandfather -- will open mid-February in Old Town and will serve traditional Italian-style coffee beverages to drive-thru customers in the winter. In the summer it will offer counter service and outdoor seating. Fork in the Road -- where John is now serving his coffee beverages -- will provide food for the 186 sq. foot café.
“Honestly, this has been one of the best experiences of my life. I think we have something really special that people in this area are really going to like.”
Since she was a Minnesotan kid, Amelia Marschall has wanted to be a graphic designer. “I never wanted to be an artist. I always wanted to be on the commercial side but I’d known since I was in fifth grade that graphic design would be a really cool job. I always had a plan.”
She studied graphic design at NMU, while also competing as a swimmer for the college. After she met John in her sophomore year, she interned in Lansing in the summers to live near him while he played for the Kalamazoo Wings
, which led her to a post-college job at Web Ascender
“I was the only designer so I was pretty much thrown into code with websites. Once I knew the language of websites I really enjoyed that. Code is like a different language so once you know it, it’s cool.”
In 2010, her co-worker Jeff McWherter approached her about starting a business. “At that point, I didn’t really know what I was going to do next, and I though, okay, I don’t have anything to lose. I might as well give it a shot.” Jeff and Amelia founded Gravity Works Design + Development
together and the company has grown to nine employees and a co-working space - Second Gear
- in Old Town. “Everything is always changing and moving so fast,” she says.
For Gravity Works, founding a business in a capital city made perfect business sense. Amelia points to government and association RFPs as a wealth of opportunity and credits local business resources like the Technology Innovation Center
in East Lansing for making it easier for companies to thrive. Gravity Works was a virtual tenant of the TIC when the company first launched.
Several years after the launch of a successful business she looks back at how much the company has evolved. “I think I’m proud of myself for just surviving with all the things going on. I try to be really organized, but that’s really tough. And also, I’m just really proud of our employees.”
It’s clear these entrepreneurs have a commitment to quality, but also to one another. “When we started Gravity Works, I think John was more excited than I was,” Amelia says. “It’s mind boggling someone this young can accomplish so much,” John says of Mimi.
“He has so much passion for everything he’s interested in. That’s why I know he’s going to be successful with Artie’s,” Amelia adds. They credit one another for their successes and thank one another for their support.
The two recently took a break from their busy work lives to wed in the Dominican Republic. “It was pretty awesome,” John laughs. They spend their evenings walking Island Park in Grand Ledge or strolling Lansing’s River Trail.
They could have chosen anywhere to build their companies and their lives, but John explains, “My heart was always here. This was always home, even when I was away.” And now there are two hearts here.
Kate Tykocki is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
John & Amelia at Artie's Filling Station
John in front of the coffee shop
The Gravity Works Team
John making a latte
The tools of the espresso maker
Amelia & John
Photos © Dave Trumpie