Nadav Mer opened Morning Bell Coffee Roasters in Ames in June 2016 after moving from Phoenix, Arizona, where he stayed on the wholesale side of the business.
Mer sold his coffee at farmer's markets in Phoenix as well as his small retail store prior to opening the cafe in Ames. Mer identifies his titles at Morning Bell as owner, roaster, chief cook and bottle washer. Morning Bell has a small, dedicated staff that has stayed at the shop for years.
“We have some very dedicated customers that are really big supporters of us," Mer said. "We always welcome undergrad students here, everyone is welcome to come, but we historically have tended to be more of a grad student, professor, downtown artist scene kind of place. We are located on Main Street, so we attract a lot of the Downtown and old town folks.”
Morning Bell is a roaster retailer, which means they roast on site as well as sell their coffee on site. Being a roaster retailer also brings in coffee tourists from all around the country.
Morning Bell also makes specialty coffee.
“Our spot is really a big-city style coffee place in a lot of ways, so it’s different from what is generally found throughout Iowa,” Mer said. “So that tends to be the draw, it’s folks that are looking for the nerdy coffee place.”
Morning Bell also does wholesale, even selling to places in town such as Lockwood Cafe. Morning Bell sells its coffee beans to Lockwood Cafe, and in turn, Lockwood Cafe sells its syrups to Morning Bell. Morning Bell also sells its beans online and to grocery stores.
“We’re more than just a cafe,” Mer said.
While Morning Bell has very limited food, they have a few bakery items for customers to enjoy. While COVID-19 has limited some of their shipments, Mer shared they typically get fresh baklava shipped from a bakery in Michigan.
“All of the black coffee is made to order," Mer said. "It’s all pour-over, hand-done black coffee. We have some really fun, different, special, espresso-based drinks. If there was one that I had to mention that I always like to tell people about is Cortadito, which is a real Florida-style coffee drink — which, for me, you know, we lived in Florida for many years as well, and this is like a taste of coffee you would get in a Cuban or Columbian little restaurant when you’re in Florida. We use a special grade of sugar that’s blended with the espresso and it’s really a fun, transporting drink that always transports me to Florida whenever I drink it.”
Prior to opening Morning Bell Coffee Roasters in Ames, the business started as a wholesale business and had a coffee stand at the farmer's market on the weekends.
“Having a farmer's market coffee stand in Phoenix was kind of like having a cafe, but only for four hours a week, and at some point when we moved here, we said, ‘I’m ready to do this every day, not just on Saturday mornings,’ so that is what really led us to having a full cafe,” Mer said. “But we really cut our teeth and learned the coffee business from the wholesale side, so we’re very focused on our sourcing of coffee beans and our preparation, specifically in the roasting and the brewing, so that’s really where we focus our efforts.”
Prior to their Phoenix store, in 2011, they had a roastery in Gainesville, Florida, and they sold it in 2013. Mer also has a Master of Business Administration, and he did corporate IT work until he got into the coffee industry.
“The corporate coffee experience kind of allows small, independent players like Morning Bell to exist,” Mer said. “Because Starbucks exists, everybody knows what a latte is, and therefore, we can have a place like Morning Bell that offers the better latte made with love in a locally owned business.”
According to Mer, a key difference between Morning Bell and franchise cafes such as Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts is the chain from the coffee bean to the cup is much smaller at Morning Bell. This offers a more personal experience for customers when they receive their cup of coffee.
Morning Bell currently does not have any seating available. They have a mask mandate in their cafe, and customers can get their drinks to go. Prior to COVID-19, Morning Bell was famous for their communal tables, and they even liked to call it “a bar without alcohol.”
Morning Bell really encouraged customers to make new connections and new friends within their cafe. Mer also referred to Morning Bell as “Downtown Ames living room vibes.”
The communal tables fostered a family-oriented atmosphere. Their tables and benches were also made in Ames by hand to continue the hand made theme that goes along with their drinks.