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TMCNet:  Tri-City caffeine craze here to stay [Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.]

[August 16, 2009]

Tri-City caffeine craze here to stay [Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.]

(Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, WA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 16--Selling java is a hot business in the Tri-Cities.

Sales of specialty coffee drinks have mostly held steady despite the recession. And new coffee joints have routinely popped up in the area to tap into a thriving local coffee market, local coffee shop owners say.

The word about the area's strong economy and a growing coffee drinking population even has attracted out-of-town entrepreneurs to set up shop.

A little over a month ago, Jason Norris started his Mean Bean Espresso drive-through near GuestHouse International on West Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick.

He moved from Kelso because the Tri-Cities is a "booming area," and there's a lot of money to be made in the coffee business, said Norris, 30, who invested $65,000 in the venture. He said he's managed a coffee shop in Centralia for two years.


Similarly, Wes Heyden came to town in 2007 from Oregon, and he and a partner started a Dutch Bros. Coffee stand on Clearwater Avenue, near Union Street.

You don't notice sharp economic swings in the area as you would in a big city like Seattle, said Heyden who's been in the coffee business for almost a decade.

"We're a sheltered lot," said Heyden, who after selling his share in the coffee stand started Roasters Coffee in the parking lot of the Red Lion Hotel in Pasco about four months ago.

Flynn Thurston and his wife moved from Spokane to be closer to family and to open Cool Beans Coffee House near the state Department of Licensing office in Kennewick about a year ago.

"We thought there was a lack of cafes with a community feel," said Thurston, 24.

He's been happy with the growth in business, he said. "We haven't seen the impact of the recession." And their success has to do with their location, word-of-mouth advertising, and the niche they've created selling hot and cold lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, teas, flavored drinks and smoothies.

Thurston offers a plush sit-down place with free Wi-Fi access. Norris touts his organic beans and discounts to customer who bring their own cups. And Heyden highlights his support for local suppliers, and his moderate prices.

"My prices are few pennies cheaper than McDonald's," Heyden said, referring to the McCaf espresso-based coffee drinks sold by McDonalds.

There's enough business for everyone in the community, said Casey Bell, who co-owns Daily Buzz Espresso on Jericho Road off Queensgate Drive in Richland with her sister Samantha Glines. The business is doing well, said Bell, a Southridge High grad 2001.

The sisters have marketed their coffee stand as bikini espresso since they bought it about a year ago. Wearing a bikini helps draw attention, but it's the personality of the sisters and the quality of drinks that keep bringing customers back, she said. The store also has a huge selection of flavors, she said.

People who work in the area get their coffee regularly at Daily Buzz. The clientele also includes women, said Bell, who previously worked as a bartender.

There's a similarity between the two jobs: Customers tip well for a good cup of coffee, Bell said.

"A bad cup can really ruin your day," she said.

Don Ray sees new customers every day at the drive-through of Coffee Bean Espresso, which he started in 1993. But he has a huge number of regulars, some of whom prefer to drive all the way from Pasco to his Stevens Drive stand in Richland for their daily buzz.

"Coffee drinkers seldom give up coffee. They'll give up something else, like going to a movie," Ray said.

Many of his customers who tried to make lattes at homes to cut costs eventually came back to him, Ray said.

"It's not quite the same they said," Ray explained.

"(Coffee) is like cigarettes, people want it," Laura Kelsay, a longtime barista at The Big Bean Espresso drive-through on Clearwater Avenue near WinCo.

Customers keep coming back because of personalized service and quality drinks, she said.

"We also give more drink for less, compared to Starbucks," she said.

Karen Suhr, a career specialist at Kennewick High, spends about $7 a week on lattes. For two years now, she has been getting her fix at Big Bean.

"(Laura) knows what I like," said Suhr, who also goes to other coffee shops.

James Hatcher, a recent Southridge High grad, calls himself a coffee drinker who spends about $10 a week on his habit.

"(Coffee) gives me the energy to do something," he said while buying the beverage at Dutch Bros. in Kennewick last week. He also enjoys Starbucks coffee, he said.

Thanks to Starbucks, consumers have come to appreciate specialty coffee, Heyden said, adding it has also provided an impetus to the growth of mom-and- pop coffee stores. He's looking to expand his business, Heyden said.

The business continues to grow with people becoming more knowledgeable about coffee, said Jake Shupe, who together with his wife, Michelle, recently took over Barracuda Coffee Co. in Richland. Both of them worked as baristas at Barracuda before buying it.

He counts business professionals and seniors among his core customers, Shupe said. He sees his cafe, which offers free Wi-Fi and newspapers, as a place for informal get-togethers and quality coffee. Some customers use his store as a virtual office, he said.

Business also has been good for Chris Gorchels, who supplies coffee making equipment and roasted bean to more than 50 retail coffee establishments in the Tri-Cities and nearby.

Many churches and schools have high-end espresso makers and offer coffee drinks. The industry has expanded considerably since 1991 when Gorchels started out in the coffee-making business in Kennewick.

Gorchels, owner of Highpockets Coffee Co., estimates there're about 150 coffee-serving outlets in the Tri-Cities. Each year about three to five coffee joints replace the same number of business that may close.

Running a retail coffee business is not easy, said Kerri Goodman-Small, publisher and owner of CoffeeTalk, a Vashon, Wash.-based globally distributed coffee trade journal.

You've to know about beans, roasting and blending the drinks, and be passionate about coffee, said Goodman-Small, who in the early 1990s co-authored Java U Business Basics, a guide to how to open a coffee house.

Retail coffee business in Washington state is still growing, she said, in part because it can be lucrative.

Anyone able to sell a 100 drinks a day can make a decent living, Gorchels said. But that means coffee shop owners must do the work themselves and forego hired help, and be someone who is cheerful and takes pride in making a good coffee drink.

-- Pratik Joshi: 509-582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com To see more of the Tri-City Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tri-cityherald.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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