Stomping New Grounds in South Hill BigFoot Java is the first step in the creation of a coffee legend

by Philip Palermo Photos and design: Steve Heeb

November 11, 2002

After centuries of seclusion and mystery, a northwest icon has set up shop in the middle of South Hill. Drivers traveling past the 12000 block of Meridian Avenue East can easily spot the giant footprint dominating the BigFoot Java® coffee drive-thru. The co-owners call it a prototype. If everything goes according to their plans, it will be the first step in redefining the drive-through coffee industry.

The History of BigFoot

There have been BigFoot Java® sightings before. Co-founder Al Jiwani of Ideas Brewing said previous BigFoot Java® s have been spotted in Bonney Lake, Kent and Buckley.

Jiwani’s past business ventures include becoming president of the TriMark Petroleum Group in Pacific, Wash. With that experience in hand, Jiwani partnered with David Morris of M2H Investments. In 2000, BigFoot Franchising Corporation was formed, combining Jiwani’s knowledge of the real estate business with Morris’s knowledge of specialty coffee.

With a concept in place, the pair opened BigFoot Java® in South Hill as a prototype. To separate themselves from other counterless drive-through coffee stands in the area, Morris said they needed a consistent theme for their signs, graphics and products.

“Personality is important,” Jiwani said. “It permeates the whole business.”

BigFoot Emerges

The company is aiming for a segment of the market roughly between independent, family-owned drive-throughs and industrial giants like Seattle’s Best Coffee and Starbucks.

Lon LaFlamme, principal for KJL Communications, said BigFoot Java® , a client of KJL, isn’t worried about possible competition from companies like Starbucks, who he referred to as the “green giant.”

“It’s running under the radar at the moment,” LaFlamme said. “However, the bigger they get, the more recognition they’ll get.”

According to a supplied information packet, the company is trying to distance itself from other coffee drive-throughs with several features, including 14-hour business hours.

The company also offers signature drinks including BigFoot Java® ‘s Legendary Latte and Mythical Mocha to help carve out an identity in a crowded market.

“It’s exciting to see them take off like this,” LaFlamme said.

The Future

South Hill won’t be BigFoot’s only stop in Puyallup. Already the company is planning to open three more locations near South Hill Park, River Road and the corner of 176th Street and Meridian Avenue.

These locations are part of what the company calls its “50 by ’05” plan, a goal to open 50 BigFoot Java® locations in the Pacific Northwest in the next five years.

“We’re gearing up ourselves to franchising,” LaFlamme said. “We want to know when we enter the franchise market that we have a dependable model.”

Included in their long-term plans is what LaFlamme called a first-of-its-kind training facility for future drive-through employees. According to LaFlamme, the facility will help maintain a level of consistency throughout future locations by employing speed training and quality control programs. Employees will enhance efficiency by learning to make precision movements at twice the usual speed, LaFlamme said.

“The two of them are literally redefining the drive-through industry,” LaFlamme said.

Another step in establishing an overall theme, Jiwani said, is the use of scratch-off cards and gift cards.

According to Jiwani, features will be added to the gift card in phases.

Currently, the card works as a prepaid gift card. In the next two to three months, Jiwani said, the company will begin a loyalty program. Customers will be able to use their gift cards to accumulate points with each purchase. The specifics of the loyalty program have not been finished.

“We’re making sure the fundamentals are sound,” Jiwani said about BigFoot’s growth.

According to LaFlamme, sophisticated site location, including analyzing traffic counts, will play a large part in determining where BigFoot will be spotted next.

The key to success, LaFlamme said, is “more than training. You’ve got to have the right location.”

Future BigFoot Java® s may not resemble the South Hill prototype. LaFlamme said future BigFoot Java® s would be structured according to the location. Some will be stand-alone drive-throughs while others could be incorporated into strip malls.

“It’s a prototype and there’s going to be changes from here to the 50th one.”

Copyright © 2003 Puyallup Herald. All rights reserved.