Driven to Espresso: Drive-through Coffee Stands in the Northwest

If you think coffee culture is cool, you have come to the right place. I have loads of information and opinions to share about espresso in the Pacific Northwest, especially the drive-through phenomenon.

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Location: Edmonds, WA, United States

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Can a competitor bring you business?

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has stated that the $100 million ad campaign by McDonalds for their McCafe coffee has likely helped Starbucks business this past fiscal quarter. He comments that huge marketing campaigns by fast-food companies trying to attract coffee consumers, "created unprecedented awareness for the coffee category overall..."

This theory is nearly the same as the point I make in my book, Driven to Espresso, that contrary to what may seem obvious, drive-through espresso stands can actually thrive well when located in the same neighborhood as a Starbucks cafe.

The basic premise is that Starbucks spends their marketing money in finding ideal locations for their cafes, based on demographics and traffic flow, and once the cafe is in place and creating a demand for that product, consumers form an association of that area with availability of specialty coffee.

In addition to their national and global advertising, Starbucks' presence there is introducing consumers in that specific neighborhood about specialty coffee products such as espresso drinks. Smaller businesses such as drive-throughs benefit from that new, growing expectation. After a short time, some consumers are bound to look for alternatives for any number of reasons, and finding an alternative in the same area makes it easy to try them.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Roundup of coffee drive-thrus in the blogs

Normally, you wouldn't associate drive-through espresso stands with funeral homes, would you? I never did find a drive-through in Canada, but here's one in Chatham, Ontario, that I really wish I had stumbled upon while working on Driven to Espresso.

Found a video of Muzz Buzz, a pretty wild-looking, modern drive-through franchise in Australia, on YouTube.

Here's an idea I've heard of before: you pay for the coffee of the customer behind you in line. I'm not sure who starts this out, but it apparently can go along for quite a string of cars.

Now I'm finding drive-throughs in Twitter posts. This is weird.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Small drive-throughs are small businesses - or are they?

Well, they are small businesses now, at least. But a recent development has me wondering about the future.

The news broke last week that Starbucks is opening a few stores in Seattle that will not carry the Starbucks brand, using a unique look and feel, apparently to appeal to customers who prefer to patronize smaller, local businesses. Here is a reaction from the Chicago Tribune reporter, Steve Johnson. They will be stealth Starbucks cafes! They will also sell beer and wine. When you walk into one, you may not know—and probably won't—that they are owned by Starbucks.

So, the question that occurs to me, who is obviously more tuned in to the drive-through world, is whether or not they will extend this approach to the drive-through part of the coffee culture. After all, Starbucks has already shown interest in drive-through stands. Note that I differentiate between the drive-up windows at their cafes, and the small, stand-alone buildings that my book is about. When I say Starbucks has opened drive-through stands, I am not talking about the windows on their cafes, of which there are many, but of the few stand-alone stands they have built around the Seattle area. The one in my neighborhood does a booming business, by the way.

Will the next new stand you see opening up at a freeway interchange or along a commuter route be a Starbucks, even though it may be called something like Hot Java Hut?

Friday, July 17, 2009

University Bookstore

The University Bookstore is the latest retailer who has agreed to carry Driven to Espresso. Look for it at any of their 5 locations in the near future.

The book's publication date is July 20th and to celebrate, I held a small party at Espresso Vivace on Yale Ave in Seattle. Sadly, it was not well attended, but at least all the many people who were invited now know about the book and that was the main point. One of the folks who attended was Gabe Berg, whose family owns the Hotspot Coffee stand shown on the cover. Here's a photo of his father, Michael Berg, and Gunther (the dog), who helped me get the great shot I ultimately put on the cover.

Here's a flash news item! Hotspot Coffee is moving. The new location will be somewhere in Seattle, but the date and exact location is not known at this time. This is an example of the ephemeral nature of drive-throughs and points out why I did not make my book a guide book. It is accepted that the book will be dated in short order. This is not a bad thing. I have always viewed my book as a sort of historical snapshot.

By the way, the Bergs have just opened an ice cream shop in the University District called Pretty Kitty. They serve excellent organic ice cream (and of course espresso)! Look for them in the Cedars restaurant building next to Walgreens on 50th St.

Thanks to all those who have purchased Driven to Espresso!