Behind the Beard—AJ Willett


Collaboration and education are a must for any industry built around social interaction; the coffee business is no different. Any effort to grow our 90+ year-old company would be fruitless if we did not do it with the goal of sharing our knowledge and passion with others.

Ferris’ purchase of the Midwest Barista School in 2014 was the perfect opportunity to do so, but much work had to be done first. We scrapped the curriculum, the name, and the location. What remained were the cornerstones of success: people and passion.

Relocated in Grand Rapids, rebranded as The Foundry, and updated to reflect current industry trends and best practices, our education center was ready to go. All that we lacked was the right person to run it. Luckily, AJ Willett was just one job post on Sprudge away.

AJ is a people person who gets things done and doesn’t overlook the details. Case in point: by the time we reached out to AJ to schedule a phone call, he had already made the 4-hour drive from Lafayette, IN to Grand Rapids, visited our coffee shop, and made himself available to come in the next day for an face-to-face interview.

But AJ’s greatest strength isn’t this “go get em” attitude or the attention to detail highlighted by his photography degree. AJ’s greatest strength, and what makes him a great barista, is his genuine interest and love for people. Years of hospitality experience and a seasoned global perspective make him a model ambassador for Ferris and for the specialty coffee community as a whole.

Join us in wishing AJ good luck as he represents Ferris in the Barista Championships at the USCC Regional Qualifier this February!