daughter attends school in one of the most remote regions of Oregon.
To visit her from Eugene, I drive three hours through dense forest
and mountains populated by little more than trout, squirrels, and
deer. After reaching the town of Redmond, I turn right on a small
two-lane road and head toward Prineville. A sign at the city limits
calls Prineville "Central Oregon's Oldest Town." It's
old and quaintand it's in the middle of nowhere. Bales of
hay line the streets for an upcoming summer festival, and pick-up
trucks seem to be the vehicle of choice. What does this have to
do with specialty coffee?
Oddly enough, there are
more drive-thru espresso operations between Eugene and Prineville
than on any stretch of highway of comparable length in the United
States. And remember, much of that drive is through forest, not
A Coffee Operation For
Every Thousand People
Prineville, population 7,500, has several
drive-thru operations and at least two businesses offering a decent
cup of coffee in a sit-down environment. How can this be possible?
Is the demand that high? After stopping at three drive-thru operations
and waiting in a long line at each, I would say, yes. I spoke with
one owner who said her business started running in the black after
only one week. One reason she was doing so well could be her product.
I watched her make a latte, and she definitely understood proper
drink preparation and great customer service.
Clinton Country Found
A couple years ago, former President Clinton
purchased a home in Westchester County, an upscale area north of
New York City, I received two separate phone calls from individuals
living in different towns in Westchester County. Their stories and
questions were the same: "I live in a town where the median
income is off the charts. Can you believe I have to drive 15 to
20 minutes to find specialty coffee?" Each caller also asked,
"Do you think I could make it if I opened a great specialty
coffee operation in my town?"
Absolutely. Both people
reported large numbers of cars passing through town during the morning
commute, so I asked them whether or not they had considered a drive-thru.
Neither was familiar with the concept. This sounds like a business
venture primed for the taking.
Coffee In The Heartland
I recently returned from a trip to Iowa.
While small towns in Iowa tend to be devoid of any coffee culture,
specialty coffee has definitely arrived in the city of Des Moines.
A friend of mine opened one of Des Moines's first coffeehouses about
12 years ago, and now there are dozens of similar operations. Word
has it that Big Green will arrive within a year. I was very surprised
by the level of knowledge many locals have regarding espresso and
coffee. But when I asked about drive-thrus, I was usually met with
blank stares or told the concept would probably not work in Des
Moines. I disagree. I believe that with such high awareness of specialty
coffee, drive-thru operations present promising opportunity.
Bringing The Idea Home
I know well the blank stared and disbelief
I confronted in Des Moines. Twelve years ago, I went to the City
of Eugene and asked what hoops I needed to jump through to open
a coffee drive-thru. Friends said the idea was wild and would never
work in a small town like Eugene. Some people thought drive-thrus
were a cute idea, but most seemed confused and puzzled by the concept.
Today, Eugene has dozens of coffee drive-thrus, and most seem to
be doing well. Of course, this can be attributed to the Northwest's
well-developed coffee culture. And based on consumer demand, I believe
the Northwest may never reach a saturation point for coffee businesses.
Case in point: My consulting partner, Ed Arvidson, who lives over
the mountain in Bend, and even smaller town than Eugene, reports
the same ratio of people to drive-thrus.
A Country of Opportunity
Whenever I am asked about the viability of
our industry, I think of the above examples. In my opinion we have
only scratched the surface of potential growth in the specialty
coffee industry. There are vast reaches of America that are untouched
by specialty coffee. Take a drive through it and see for yourself.
Milletto is president of Bellissimo
A Specialty Coffee Drive-Thru contains valuable information
about opening and operating a coffee drive-thru. Written as a companion
piece to Bean
Business Basics, this manual covers aspects of concept planning,
location selection, drive-thru construction, bureaucratic considerations,
and day-to-day operations.