Local Perks | Part I


Making it as mom and pop drive-thru ‘java joints’

In the heyday of Cottage Grove’s timber industry in the last century, locals often joked there was a sawmill on every corner. Fast forward 100 years and the same tongue-in-cheek statement can be made today about its numerous locally-owned drive-thru coffee businesses.

In March 2020, the National Coffee Association released a comprehensive survey of American coffee drinking habits. It revealed American coffee drinking has reached new highs and is essential to daily lives coast-to-coast. The survey’s key findings are:

Americans drink more coffee than ever. The average American coffee drinker drinks just over three cups per day. Overall coffee consumption is up by five percent across the nation since 2015. Seven in 10 Americans drink coffee every week and 62 percent drink coffee every day.

Americans drink coffee throughout the day and are looking for convenient, on-the-go options. Almost half of daily coffee drinkers who buy their coffee at a quick service restaurant, cafe, donut shop or convenience store do so through a drive-thru. And one quarter of people who have ordered a coffee outside the home in the past week have used an app to do so.

Americans are choosing premium beans and espresso-based beverages over traditional coffee. Nearly 60 percent of coffee served in the United States is ‘gourmet’ (brewed from premium beans). Coffee drinkers are flocking to espresso-based beverages, with consumption of cappuccinos, lattes, and flat whites up by a staggering 50 percent in the same time period, driven in part by strong popularity with 25 to 39-year-olds. Cold brew and nitro coffees were virtually unknown in 2015, but now one in five Americans under age 40 consumes at least one every single week. Consumption of traditional coffee has declined by 10 percent, though coffee drinkers over 60 are twice as likely to consume traditional coffee as 18 to 24-year-olds.

Coffee choices reflect Americans’ regional, cultural, and generational preferences. Coffee consumption increases with age, but Americans under 40 increased coffee consumption 40 percent since 2015. Medium Roast is, overall, America’s favorite. The West Coast leads on gourmet coffee consumption and cold brew is nearly 50 percent more popular there than in the South. Southerners are 25 percent more likely to order frozen blended coffee than Northeasterners. More than half of coffee drinkers want to buy coffee that is certified good for the environment and good for coffee farmers and communities.

Oregon is credited with introducing to the world the first drive-thru coffee shop. According to a 2020 Perfect Daily Grind article on drive-thru coffee businesses, the drive-thru concept for ordering and receiving products from the comfort of your car began in the 1930s. As fast food grew throughout the 20th century, so did the drive-thru market.

The article notes that while there are no formal records, one of the first drive-thru coffee shops ever opened was Motor Moka in Portland in 1990. Founder Jim Roberts says that, at that time, Starbucks (his main competitor) was “against” drive-thru coffee, because they didn’t see how they people could have a true “coffeehouse experience” in their car.

In addition to the two large corporately-owned coffee purveyors, Starbucks and Dutch Bros, Cottage Grove currently has four successful locally-owned drive-thru coffee businesses: Espresso Bar’n, BaDooBaz Espresso, Gold Rush Espresso and Rally’s Coffee Roasters.

The owners of these “mom and pop java joints” all say they have a passion for coffee and serving people. They all say they survived the pandemic’s economic and supply chain challenges because of their loyal customers, their focus on world-class customer care and a solid commitment to providing the highest quality beverages at an affordable price.

The Espresso Bar’n

Owners James and Liz Kline

1551 E. Main Street

The Espresso Bar’n opened in 1993 as Cottage Grove’s first drive-thru coffee stand. Located on the corner of Main and 16th across from Safeway, the little red and white barn-shaped building serves a wide variety of hot and cold and seasonal beverages.

In 2003, James and Liz Kline purchased the business because they share a passion for coffee. They grew up in Seattle area and became co-workers in the corporate world. Growing up in the Seattle area, they both enjoyed the early days of Starbucks. Over time they enjoyed seeking out independent coffee shops for their uniqueness and the sense of community flair.

For several years their careers relocated them to the Midwest. It was there they realized they wanted to leave the corporate world and return to the Pacific Northwest to start their own business. They found a small ad for a coffee stand for sale in Cottage Grove, Oregon, on the business start-up page of the Wall Street Journal.

“We were both accustomed to an urban environment when we flew out here and fell in love with Cottage Grove,” Liz said. “In one weekend we took a leap of faith and bought a business and a house in a small town. For 19 years now we’ve raised our three kids here and we’ve been actively involved in our community.”

One of the biggest changes James has seen in the past two decades since he became a business owner has been the challenge of fairly compensating employees above minimum wage.

James explained, “In 2003 minimum wage was $6.90/hr, currently it is at $12.75/hr. In 20 years, required compensation has doubled, but our little business has not doubled in 20 years. Our business has stayed steady and consistent, but not doubled. Therefore, expenses and costs rise and the ripple effect is to our customers. It’s a huge challenge to reward employees or measure their performance when minimum wage outpaces public sector wages and puts small businesses at an economic disadvantage.

“We enjoy staff longevity — one employee has been with us for 15 years and another for 18 years,” James continued. “That’s because we take care of our baristas and have always tried to pay them above minimum wage with annual raises and bonus incentives. A decade ago, we had nine and today we have two full-time and three part-time employees. It’s sad we can’t employ that many anymore. Liz works more hours in the Bar’n and we both have taken less money from the business so we can adequately compensate our employees.”

The Espresso Bar’n offers a wide variety of products such as six alternatives to milk, over 60 syrup flavors, 30 sugar-free flavors, three variations of Chai tea and a soy-based frappe. It takes at least two months to fully train a new barista to memorize the menu and the regular customers’ order and feel confident enough to keep the waiting line moving quickly.

The Klines say their business survived COVID-19 because of their loyal customers. Nothing was normal. They navigated the supply chain challenges by going to great lengths to ship some supplies from outside the area. Their customers were very understanding and kept coming. When they didn’t have the ingredients for a customer’s usual drink, they suggested another one that often became a new favorite. Their specialty blended drinks tend to be the most popular ones.

Liz said, “Recently a new customer drove up and said, ‘Everyone tells me I needed to come here for coffee.’ And now he stops by regularly. People are devastated when the Bar’n is closed. For safety reasons we had to close several days due to the thick forest fire smoke because our staff has to work out of an open window for hours at a time.”

Gazing into the crystal ball of what may be, the Klines say they see themselves serving their customers coffee for 30 more years. Their motto for success is remembering “It’s what is IN the cup, not what’s ON the cup” and continuing to grow their customer base by providing a high-quality beverage at a great price and served with outstanding customer service.

“We do things a bit differently at the Barn, that’s what makes us special,” Liz said.

 

BaDooBaz Espresso

Barry and Debra Goodroad

1040 Lord Avenue

Barry Goodroad is an outdoorsy kinda guy who spent much of his life cutting and selling firewood. In 2001, he and his wife Debra purchased Cottage Grove’s second drive-up coffee stand with a rather unusual name. In his youth, Barry used the words “Bah – Doo – Bah” to keep time in his modern dance class. These words became the inspiration for the unique business name.

He said the business was slow in the first four years and on a good day they were lucky to make $100 profit. They survived with enthusiastic family support — financially and operationally. This support allowed the Goodroads to realize a shared dream of owning a successful business. Part of their success is their loyal staff. Each one has individual talents and strengths they combine to create a positive working environment. Currently the business supports six local families.

“We have one original employee who moved away and lived in different states and returned with five children and now serves as our manager,” Debra said. “Another staff person began her involvement in our business as a hot chocolate customer sitting in her car seat.”

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown began, the Goodroads closed their business for a few days until they learned the Oregon Health Authority designated drive-up coffee stands as an “essential” business. They religiously followed OHA sanitizing protocols each day to ensure they protected themselves and their customers from the deadly disease.

“The pandemic increased our business by one-third in the first month because there were so few places to spend the first stimulus check,” Barry said. “We had daily supply chain issues and had to get what we needed wherever we could find it. It was crazy! We had to order West Coast-made caramel sauce from Michigan and straws from Florida. Debra began making some of our products, such as Chai tea and created unique drinks to decrease our dependence on outside suppliers.”

They believe competition is a good thing and are not concerned about the plentiful places to get a cup of coffee in Cottage Grove. They say the secret sauce for their successful business is providing great customer service and a high-quality beverage to the customer’s satisfaction.

The staff knows 90 percent of their regular customers, if not by name, then by their preferred drink. They have returning customers who frequently travel Interstate 5 and always stop here to get their caffeine fix. BaDooBaz’s most popular drink is their peanut butter mocha.

The Oregon Department of Transportation’s upcoming safety improvements on Hwy 99 in front of BaDooBaz created an unexpected financial blessing for the Goodroads. ODOT purchased some right-of-way next to their building and the financial compensation they received enabled them to install a new roof and pave their driveway and parking lot.

With these major maintenance projects now complete, Barry and Debra plan to continue to support their longtime staff and their families in ways that draw new customers and keep their current customers coming back for their favorite beverages at an affordable price.

Editor’s Note: Part II of this series will continue to explore the joys and struggles of running Cottage Grove’s mom and pop drive-thru coffee shops.

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