fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Caffeine purveyors spill the beans about the industry's growth in the Rogue Valley

Nearly as ubiquitous as fire hydrants and newspaper boxes, drive-up coffee stands are magnets for bleary-eyed drivers each morning as they roll toward work.

They and a number of Rogue Valley coffee shops present fresh-faced baristas, whose energetic personas reflect the caffeine drinks they serve daily by the hundreds. The workers greet customers whose days have just dawned or perhaps simply need an afternoon pick-me-up.

Dutch Bros., the burgeoning Southern Oregon king of the drive-ups , has tripled to 36 outlets in the past two years and is poised to expand by 50 percent in the next year. But the 11-year-old Grants Pass company isn't alone in its growth or impact on the coffee-consuming public.

A variety of roasters, coffee houses, Internet cafes and wholesalers call Southern Oregon home, and thanks to tourism and the Internet, their products find their way around the country.

— I think this entire industry is in its first quartile, says Medford roaster Sal Mellelo. Coffee's popularity has increased. Once people find a coffee they like, they're not going to go back to the swill of their parents' generation.

There are more than a dozen locally owned coffee shops, roasters and wholesalers. Their images and target markets differ substantially.

Dutch Bros., founded by a pair of Grants Pass siblings, is the hippest with an apparel line and stickers rivaling its coffee in popularity.

Mellelo is well known among the judicious palates of coffee connoisseurs attending festivals in Seattle, Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

The Human Bean, a Rogue Valley-owned upstart drive-up chain, is now selling franchises to cash in on the popularity of its business. A variety of other entrepreneurs are making a brisk business of coffee to go.

Grizzly Peak Roasting Co. may lack Mellelo's acclaim, but its flow of coffee drinkers and Internet users reflect the leisurely pace of Ashland. Roaster Hank Rogers' coffee has found favor with tourists, who have mail-ordered Grizzly Peak blends as far away as New York City.

Steve Buckmaster got into coffee beans in Ashland during the 1970s while working for Renzo's and Santino's, which provided beans for Safeway stores. Today he is a partner in Buckmaster Coffee Co., supplying coffee to independent grocery stores in Oregon, Washington and California.

Dutch Bros. began like many business ventures ' out of necessity.

Back in 1992, Dane and Travis Boersma's futures radically changed when their father, Jack, turned the family dairy farm into Dutcher Creek Golf Course.

The brothers invested in a double-head espresso machine and set up shop with a push-cart under a 10-by-10 tent in front of the Grants Pass Wal-Mart

If we had two locations, I thought that would be great, says Dane Boersma, who at 49 is 17 years older than his brother. I didn't expect it to go very far, but it did.

The second location was at the Grants Pass Bi-Mart, and before long the Wal-Mart on Crater Lake Highway called, asking the brothers to bring espressos and lattes to Jackson County. 1995, Dutch Bros. had three locations in Medford.

We weren't sure if we wanted drive-throughs, little push carts or what. We tried to experience it all, Boersma says.

Eventually, the two-sided drive-throughs became the standard platform. Dutch Bros. dispenses between 250 and 1,200 drinks daily from each. The company roasts and grinds between 15,000 and 18,000 pounds of beans monthly at its Grants Pass warehouse.

Dane handles daily operations and Travis oversees growth ' and there's been plenty of it. Brother-in-law Dave Morris and Abe Menchenfriend train franchisees and employees. The central office has a staff of 10, and there are more than 250 employees and 23 franchises in two states.

Franchises ' running between &

36;70,000 and &

36;180,000 ' began popping up in 1999 as Dutch Bros. spread into Klamath Falls and Roseburg. In 2001, it appeared in Albany and earlier this year in Chico, Calif.

As an owner, I wanted to stay within a 30-mile radius; that's why we came up with the franchise idea, he says. We wanted to see if enough people were interested, and the response has been phenomenal.

When the Corvallis stand opened last fall, Dutch Bros., gave away 800 drinks the first day and traffic was backed up a mile.

The company's Internet site serves as a heads-up for new locations, promotions coffee paraphernalia and apparel.

The company's dozen stickers featuring the Mafia Guy, the Mullet Guy, Dutch Fro and Dutch Freedom Fighters are predictably popular.

We probably go through &

36;2,500 worth of stickers per month, Boersma says. It's a crazy advertising scheme.

He says the only location that has closed was at the corner of South Stage Road and South Pacific Highway outside of Medford and that was because the gas station at the site had closed. The entire crew was sent to a new stand on Jacksonville Highway.

Boersma says getting up at 5 o'clock sure beats the 2:30 a.m. start when he and his brother were milking cows.

Every morning I go for a walk to one of our locations and get a little skinny latte ' a double shot with about 8 ounces of milk,' he says. Then I go to the coffee house for a brew. In the process I talk to every age group, and it's quite an education.

Like the Dutch Bros., Sal Mellelo got his start pushing caffeine from a cart.

And while they've each prospered in their own way, Mellelo's introspective approach is worlds away from the jovial Boersma clan.

I wanted a coffee with our name on it that we can be incredibly proud of that would represent our names and what's in our hearts and let the rest take care of itself, Mellelo says. The key is to be busy and enjoy your time and not be stressed by trying to do something in a time frame that's unrealistic.

Mellelo's roasts permeated downtown before he opened a Tuscan-style building with two Probat roasters between Costco and the airport. Soon, a roaster being built in Germany will go in a warehouse and distribution center outside Medford.

He mulls a coffee's quality as he strolls down the street on a recent shopping trip.

If you walk around this block and can taste it from here to the Costco front door, it's pretty good, Mellelo says. If you've done all of your shopping and come back and taste it ' now that's a good coffee.

The 43-year-old with 29 employees considers consumer education part of his job.

Some people drink what I call a big, hot milkshake ' 24 ounces of chocolate and sugar that doesn't have much to do with coffee. Of course some people could sit down and drink coffee at Denny's and think that's fine.

His niche market is high-end coffee drinkers who don't use sugar and cream and generally know their coffee.

Hank Rogers hung around a coffee roaster in Minneapolis during his days as a manufacturing consultant. He developed a particular fascination with Tanzania Peaberry coffee beans and the aroma and taste they produced.

The experience came back to him a few years ago when he moved to Ashland.

I looked around at what was not being done around here that I might want to do, Rogers says.

Five years ago he opened Grizzly Peak Roasting Co. on First Street.

He wholesales beans to Bard's Inn, and through connections with tourists or residents' relatives he regularly ships coffee to New York, Chicago, California and Washington.

He waxes eloquent discussing the difference between Arabica, or mountain grown, and Robusta, lowland grown, beans.

Coffee grown at higher altitudes gets the proper amount of rain, Rogers says. At lower elevations, where it's hotter, it grows faster and sometimes you get two crops a year.

Robusta ends up as instant coffee, and big companies lace Robusta with a few Arabica beans to claim it's mountain grown, he says.

The bigger companies prepare almost a cinnamon roast, because to roast darker takes energy and they don't want to spend the money, Rogers says. Canned coffee drinkers get used to that flavor.

He gets beans for his 30 varieties from Royal Coffee out of Emeryville, Calif.

He estimates 70 percent of his beans come from Latin America, 20 percent from Africa and 10 percent from Indonesia.

When the coffee company where Steve Buckmaster worked was sold in the mid-1980s, he leased a space in the same building as the Good Bean operates in Jacksonville and installed a roaster.

For a while, he operated what he refers to as a low-key retail outlet. But within a few months, one of his vendors ' Michael Baccellieri of Longbottom Coffee and Tea in Hillsboro ' approached him about a partnership. With Buckmaster's wholesale grocery background it was a natural fit.

We started out with a local group of independent stores that I had originally serviced when I was working with Renzo's and Santino's and we were able to maintain the customer base, Buckmaster says.

Today, Ray's Food Place and other C&K Market stores are the company's primary customers.

We've shown a steady growth of small percentages all the years we've been in business, says Buckmaster, whose company has offices in Central Point and Hillsboro.

Buckmaster says the company, which has 25 employees, has been tempted to push east into new markets.

But it would take so long to get our product to those areas, he says. And we're all about freshness and the product would suffer. It would require another roasting facility and a shipping hub to operate out of. Maybe at some point we'll go another state or so in each direction, but that would be about it.

Although restaurant and other accounts have been available from time to time, the company has stayed its original course.

We have dabbled in restaurants a little, but the grocery trade is what we know and how to take care of, Buckmaster says. It's not that we couldn't and wouldn't do something else, but the opportunity hasn't been there. We've been content to do the best job we can.

Brothers Travis, left, and Dane Boersma started Dutch Bros. Coffee Co. in 1992 in Grants Pass. Following rapid growth, their coffee stands seem to be everywhere in Southern Oregon. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven