By ELAINE PORTERFIELD
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
KENT — It’s a big, mean and crowded world of espresso out there, but a small, ambitious coffee company hopes to chisel out a niche with caffeine fiends with drive-through shops open around the clock.
The company is BigFoot Java®, and it’s putting final touches on the “BigFoot University” in Kent’s industrial area, where it plans to give its coffee-drink makers what it hopes is the best training in the industry. The company has six shops, all in South King and Pierce counties, with six more to open soon in the same region.
The drive-thru at South 212th Street and 84th Avenue South in Kent is one of six BigFoot Java® outlets offering caffeine connoisseurs a jolt to keep them rockin’ around the clock.
The owners say they’re aiming for a spot in the market between the big, international specialty coffee chains and single-owner, drive-through espresso stops. They say drive-through sales are the hottest trend in the espresso market right now.
“I think we’re a very unique firm,” said David Morris, director of marketing and an investor in the company, as he gave a tour of a BigFoot shop at 21116 84th Ave. S.
One way the company is seeking to distinguish itself is through employee training, he said. Inconsistency in the way coffee drinks are made is a big problem, Morris said, something that irks customers who expect a certain taste when they order their favorite beverage.
“We train our baristas more than other chains,” he claims, in areas ranging from the basics of espresso-making and customer service to the more esoteric: precise movement behind the coffee bar and “precision milk foaming.”
Training is done at individual BigFoot shops, but that will change come June, when the company’s barista school opens.
“We teach them every single factor there is in making the perfect espresso and the perfect drink,” Morris said. He aims to have employees treat customers with the much-lauded Nordstrom style of courtesy and politeness.
Baristas will be retrained periodically, to keep their skills well-honed, he said.
BigFoot was profiled in a cover story in the February issue of Specialty Coffee Retailer, a national industry publication, and that has sparked interest around the country from people interested in franchises, company officials said.
“The objective is to open 25 company-owned and 25 franchise stores by early 2005,” said Al Jiwani, president. “However, the interest from our national cover story has been from coast to coast, and that could well accelerate our regional and national rollout.”
All of the drive-through shops are designed in a style Morris calls “neo-Northwest,” a mixture of stained wood, metal, exposed beams and stone. An “always open” sign shines at the front.
“People know they can stop at BigFoot if they (work) a weird shift at Boeing or are coming home from a bar,” Morris said. “We’re always there.”
The company was born several years ago, when Jiwani, whose background includes the development of businesses such as service stations, car washes and convenience stores, joined forces with Morris, who owns Dillanos Coffee Roasters in Sumner. They have developed a signature taste for the coffee used at BigFoot, a smooth, velvety brew, Morris said.
It’s all very exciting, said Morris, who began in the coffee business with a single espresso cart in front of a Buckley convenience store. He now envisions the company’s Northwest-style espresso shops in locations around the country.
“We are definitely ahead of the curve here,” he said.