Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a two-part series on local drive-thru coffee shops. Part I spotlighted two local businesses, The Espresso Bar’n and BaDooBaz Espresso. Part II will look at two more local shops.
GOLD RUSH ESPRESSO
Owners Brandon & Maranda Houck
185 N. Thorton Lane
Located at the gateway to the Bohemia Mining District, Gold Rush Espresso is aptly named. The business, across the street from Walmart on Row River Road, opened in 2003. Brandon and Maranda Houck became its owners in 2018. They grew up on the Central Oregon Coast in Toledo and lived in Medford prior to Brandon accepting a position at a local car dealership, in 2014, that relocated them to Cottage Grove.
“We got into the coffee business because coffee is a growing industry and there will always be a demand for good quality coffee,” Maranda said. “For us, it has grown into a love of learning the different kinds of roasts and what goes into making that perfect espresso.”
The Houcks are hands-on business owners. Maranda works a shift five days a week and Brandon works in the background maintaining the equipment. They credit their business success to outstanding customer service and the quality of the drinks they serve. Currently they employ seven baristas and, because of COVID-19, finding employees has been challenging.
“In March 2020, when the pandemic began, several employees had to quit and we were down to three staff. We were used to getting five to six job applications a month and then none for more than a year and a half,” Maranda said. “Thankfully, today, we have seven amazing baristas in our shop to serve our wonderful customers.”
In addition to the labor shortage, the pandemic made it difficult to maintain their needed inventory. Cups, lids, straws and syrups were hard to get at times and they had to make-do with what they could get to keep their business open. They say they weathered the pandemic’s challenges thanks to the faithfulness of their loyal customers who were very understanding in those “make-do” moments.
“We love our customers!” Maranda said. “One customer brings us banana bread weekly and another one made us a dream catcher that has brought us good luck.”
A faithful customer near and dear to them is Parrish Bryson, the father of Michael Bryson who disappeared near Dorena in August 2020. The Harrisburg resident drives down weekly to search for his missing son and brings coffee to the searchers who still help him look for Michael.
Maranda added, “Parrish shows us all that, even if you are going through difficult times, you can still be kind and help others.”
The Houcks believe they stand out from other coffee shops because they have competitive prices, lots of flavor options and they strive to be friendly and welcoming. They say their most popular drinks on the menu are the Campfire Mocha and their Morning Vibes energy drink.
Brandon said business growth was slow in the first year but has grown steadily since their 2018 purchase. Maranda added, “Our hope for the future is to continue giving great customer service and serving yummy drinks and hopefully expanding to other places.”
Rally Coffee Roasters
Owner Delaine Reed
1220 E. Main St.
Growing up in Modesto, California, Delaine Reed was in high school when she saw her first espresso machine and knew she wanted to be in the coffee business. In California, espresso coffee was paired with a food establishment and after relocating to the Pacific Northwest she noticed the increasing number of drive-up java stands that just sold coffee.
In 2009, she and her coffee-loving friend and original business partner worked at Full City Coffee Roasters in Eugene and decided they wanted to start their own business selling coffee. They wanted a one-word name that wasn’t specifically related to coffee for their new business, so they opened a thesaurus to find it.
“We wanted a word that was a positive action word,” Delaine said. “We liked the word ‘rally’ for its different meanings that complimented our dream of positive community engagement: ‘to gather or bring together strength and enthusiasm for a shared passion.’”
Living up to its name, they have served coffee as a fundraiser at Cottage Grove High School sports events with students taking orders and delivering drinks to customers in the stands. One year Rally donated proceeds of their sales to the Spanish Club for a summer immersion trip. When one of the baristas had a major health problem, customers donated generously to help with medical expenses.
They first opened across Main Street in the Urban Kitchen drive-thru building until their current building was built. After the first year she bought out her partner and has been Rally’s sole owner for the past 13 years. Delaine is proud that she has now been self-employed longer than she was employed by others.
During this time the coffee business changed. Starbucks made people aware of different types of coffees and opened the door to bring specialty coffees into the home. She said Rally’s drink menu focuses on quality ingredients. They make their own chocolate (ganache), caramel sauce, fresh grated nutmeg and orange peel.
“I began my business as a coffee connoisseur, so I was more focused on brewing bold high-quality coffee and did not initially embrace ‘candy bar coffees,’” Delaine said. “Yet customer satisfaction is one of the most important outcomes of my business and I wanted to give my customers what they wanted. So, I told the staff ‘Let’s do it and do it well by focusing on quality ingredients.’”
Delaine said Cottage Grove is blessed with so many choices to satisfy caffeine cravings. Each coffee business has its own specialty drinks and the baristas see their customers selecting from among multiple loyalty punch cards for other coffee businesses in town. She doesn’t believe competition is an issue because there are enough choices to support all of them.
The COVID pandemic severely changed the customer experience at Rally’s. Before COVID struck, the indoor and patio seating areas were a popular place to bring a laptop and use the free wi-fi while enjoying a favorite beverage and interacting with the staff and other customers. There were three “portals” to serve customers: indoor and outdoor seating and the drive-up window.
“COVID stripped the color out of our business,” Delaine said. “The 10 indoor seats brought together customers with different perspectives on current events and created a rich environment to learn and grow from each other. We solved lots of the world’s problems in those daily conversations. Then, overnight, we only had one portal to serve our customers. I was really thankful we had a drive-thru window and we just had to make the adjustment in the interpersonal dynamics of our people-centered business.”
In the 2-3 minutes it took to make a drink, the lone person working the window keenly felt the customer’s fear and anger and heard how he or she was coping with the stresses the pandemic created. Outdoor patio seating is now available; however, with corona virus variants still circulating, she and her staff remain cautiously optimistic about reopening for indoor seating in the near future.
Currently Rally’s has four baristas and the most popular drinks are the Lavender Mocha with hand-crafted ganache and their legendary fresh, strongly-brewed house coffee.
Looking to the future, Delaine said she and her staff will continue to serve high quality beverages with excellent customer service. They eagerly await the opportunity to reopen for indoor seating and “bring life back inside the business”.
A yawn is a silent scream for coffee. For yawning Cottage Grove coffee lovers, this series’ four locally-owned businesses serve a wide variety of beverages from strong house brews to “candy bar coffees” when a caffeine pick-me-up is needed in the early morning, midday or late afternoon.
These business owners say they guarantee customer satisfaction with each drink sold and they are grateful to have the support of their community in these difficult economic times.