The Proof is in the Grounds

Proving Grounds Coffee Shop open in Milford

Andrew Kovanda, Staff Writer

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by Andrew Kovanda



It’s the reason you get out of bed in the morning despite being so comfortable. It’s the reason you take those first steps out your door even though you look worse than you did yesterday. It’s the reason mornings don’t seem so gloomy and dreary even though it’s 6 AM. It, of course, is coffee.

In the last few years, Milford hasn’t featured a local cafe. Of course, we have Starbucks and Tim Horton’s but these chains are not unique and lack the character of a small business. While you can still get your coffee there, most people do not see this as a place to spend time. But ever since June 24th, The Proving Grounds Coffee has been the answer to that problem.

Over the summer, James Courtney, along with his wife and two young daughters, opened The Proving Grounds Coffee & Ice Cream. James has been working in sales for most of his working career; he worked as a stockbroker for 12 years and then a stay at home dad after that. Around 2 years ago, he decided he wanted to start looking for a new career. For the last 25 years he’s kept a journal of things he’s interested in, so he started looking there for a new career. “It’s really interesting to see your head 15 years ago,” Courtney said.

Milford was one of the many locations Courtney was looking at. He also looked at Brighton, Holly, Novi, South Lyon and many others, but he says he decided on Milford because he wanted to raise his kids here. “I didn’t know much about Milford – I didn’t need to.”

After living here he says, “it has the right mix of economic prosperity, close-knit community, and sense of small downtown while still being isolated from concrete jungles.”

Milford is a very competitive town, especially when starting a new business, and Courtney is well aware of this. “Milford does have a competitive side, but [the community] embraces the independent business owner. They really embrace high quality and unique goods and services.”

Courtney wanted to help progress Milford’s tight-knit community by bringing in as many demographics as possible. “I knew that millennials would like [the industrial wood design] for experience and quality. It needs to be unique and it needs to be good.”

The middle aged are the same, but they’re looking for more comfort. ”We wanted larger areas for studying and groups to be able to meet. We wanted to stay away from high top tables and more towards 4 group settings.”

Even though The Proving Grounds Coffee & Ice Cream has been open for a couple months, it has already become a local favorite. Courtney has an amazingly simple philosophy on business: “Always do the right thing.” He firmly believes in keeping the customer the first priority and makes this possible through his employees. “If the employees don’t have the power to make decisions, I don’t have a company.”

“Don’t worry about the money. The money will come. You worry about the people. If that means giving out a free drink card because someone is waiting too long, do what will make them feel better and you’ll feel better. No one’s perfect, but we can always improve.”

The Proving Grounds Coffee & Ice Cream is also making strides to support local artists. They allow local musicians to perform in the shop and local painters to display and sell their pieces on the walls free of commission.

Also, everything in the coffee shop is hand crafted – some by him. Almost everything in the shop is locally sourced: the sign, windows and all their honey and jams.

Courtney is also working with Huron Valley Director of Fund Development, Chris Ceresa, to raise general funds for schools. You can find more about this on the HVS website under the ‘Make A Gift’ tab.

James Courtney has brought a lot more than just coffee and ice cream to Milford in the last couple months; he’s brought a progressive, comfortable, quality business with him that is going to inspire many small business owners to do likewise.

And the secret behind its success has been hiding in plain sight the whole time: their name. “Our name means three different things – The Proving Grounds:  Testing: never settling, always self critical. And Grounds: like coffee.”


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The Proof is in the Grounds