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R&IEditorial Archives2004 — August 1 — Beverage

Black Gold
Across dayparts and industry segments, coffee sales keep perking.

There is nothing regular about coffee anymore.

Once almost an afterthought in restaurant kitchens, what used to be regarded as a lowly cup of joe now is recognized as an important meal component. Smart operators select beans, blends, and brewing methods to please an increasingly coffee-savvy market, and many offer lengthy coffee menus to satisfy the hunger for new flavors.

“Coffee is our No. 1 sales item in terms of volume,” says Patrick Lenow, spokesman for the Glendale, Calif.-based IHOP Corp. “It’s a critical component of our business, and we want to make sure that our guests are satisfied.”

Minneapolis-based Dairy Queen’s MooLatte mixes ice cream and coffee.

IHOP restaurants brew coffee from a blend of arabica beans, delivered to them in premeasured packages to ensure consistency. Package sizes are varied to best accommodate the shifts in business throughout a day.

“We do not hold brewed coffee for more than 30 minutes,” says Lenow.

Coffee also is serious big business at The Cheesecake Factory, says Howard Gordon, senior vice president of business development and marketing. And no wonder. The Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based chain was founded on cheesecake and still considers desserts a specialty and a draw. And, as Gordon explains, “Coffee and desserts go hand-in-hand.”

Regular and decaffeinated coffee is available as are cappuccinos, lattes and a sizable selection of spiked, coffee-based drinks from the bar. Flavored lattes such as white chocolate raspberry, honey vanilla, and caramel royale are particular favorites.

The Cheesecake Factory brews its coffee into thermal containers (“the best way,” insists Gordon) from a blend of beans that is reevaluated in twice-yearly taste tests. The goal, says Gordon, is coffee that is “very smooth, very balanced, but also rich enough so that the flavor comes through no matter what you put into it.”

Java Jive
Coffee-loving patrons of Port City Java like coffee embellished with something, whether it’s a shot of flavoring or a pouf of foamed milk. “In the majority of our stores, espresso-based drinks just edge out drip coffee,” says Don Reynolds Jr., founder and COO of the nine-year-old Wilmington, N.C.-based chain.

Port City serves a sizable coffee menu along with breakfast and lunch items including sandwiches, salads, panini and fruit smoothies. Popular java drinks include syrup-flavored cappuccinos; Mochaccino, a house specialty made with espresso, steamed milk, premium chocolate and whipped cream; and espresso macchiato, a double espresso “marked” with milk foam. Iced coffee drinks also are big sellers (see “Chilling Out,” this page).

Customers at PJ’s Coffee and Wine Bars accompany sandwiches or salads with a choice of three freshly roasted and brewed coffees.

“We don’t roast as dark as some of our competitors; we’re a shade under,” says Reynolds, who calls the Port City process “full-flavor roasting.”

“Our coffee doesn’t have quite as charred, or burnt, taste. It has resonance with our customer base. They tend to like it better.”

West Coast Roast
The Wolfgang Puck Cafe chain tailors its coffee to the location. Cafes in California serve a dark-roast premium coffee with plenty of punch; those in Illinois, Florida and Canada offer a milder French roast house blend.

“People on the West Coast are more accustomed to full-flavored dark-roast coffee,” says Thomas Bensel, regional vice president of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide of Beverly Hills, Calif. “It’s the influence coming from Seattle and San Francisco.”

At noontime, drip coffee is the drink of choice at all Wolfgang Puck Cafe locations. That shifts at night when some 40% of California diners order cappuccino. In other locations, the figure is closer to 20%.

The Metairie, La.-based PJ’s Coffee and Tea Company roasts beans in small batches and aims for a lighter flavor than the West Coast taste.

Customers at its PJ’s Coffee and Wine Bars can accompany their sandwiches or salads with a choice of three freshly roasted and brewed coffees, chosen from the company’s product line of 16 whole-bean coffees from around the world. One flavored coffee also is offered daily, in flavors including hazelnut, French vanilla, Southern pecan and English toffee. All options are available in dark, medium, or decaffeinated strength, and fresh pots are brewed every two hours. Cappuccinos and lattes are the biggest sellers, according to Tanya Mareno, PJ’s franchise sales director.

Despite the chain’s name, coffee is the best-selling item at the 5,500 Dunkin’ Donuts around the world. Customers consume some 1 billion cups a year (that’s 2.7 million cups a day), making Dunkin’ Donuts the world’s largest coffee and baked goods chain.

PJ’s Coffee and Tea Company roasts beans in small batches and aims for a lighter flavor than the dark-roast West Coast taste.

More than 12 coffee beverages are on the menu, brewed with arabica beans from Central and South America. The original blend, a light roast introduced by company founder Bill Rosenberg in 1950, is still sold, along with a darker Cafe blend that was introduced in recent years. Espresso and cappuccino were added to the product line in 2003 and early 2004. Lattes come in flavors of French vanilla, hazelnut, cinnamon, caramel and mocha.

Espressos and cappuccinos are “priced 20% lower than the competition,” according to Erika Marshall, manager of global communications for the Randolph, Mass.-based chain. “They are ready in one minute.”

Customers do not travel to condiment carts; the counter staff adds cream and sugar. “That’s why it’s so convenient in the drive-thru,” says Marshall.

Insiders in New England find it convenient to ask for “a regula” (hold the final R) when they want cream and sugar in their coffee. It’s not on the menu, but the counter help knows the code, and adds a single serving of each to the cup.

“Our coffee can be ordered with double cream and sugar, or even triple cream and sugar,” says Marshall. “But please note, we are not recommending that.”

Independent's Day
Coffee does not just fuel chain operations. It’s the bread and butter of family-owned restaurants as well.

Kathryn and Jack Lenox were corporate types working in Texas when they decided to wake up and smell the coffee—literally. They resigned their jobs, packed their bags and moved to Florence, Ore., where they now operate the Oregon Coast Bakery & Coffee Cafe.

The cafe sells sandwiches, salads, quiches, baked goods, and—on Wednesdays—spelt flower crępes for those allergic to wheat. No red meat is served.

Coffee is a specialty.

“We try to give a very good cup of coffee,” says Kathryn Lenox, who brews each cup to order. “I’m a coffee addict. Coffee is my life.”

The cafe is the only place in Florence licensed to sell an award-winning specialty coffee from Eugene, 55 miles to the east.

“It’s a very rich coffee,” says Lenox. “And their roaster is very consistent. It always tastes exactly the same, which is important when it comes to coffee.”

Café mocha, made with a popular San Francisco cocoa, is the most popular coffee beverage on the menu. Lattes and the traditional house blend also have their shares of fans.

“We also do espresso, cappuccino, café au lait, iced mochas, and iced lattes,” says Lenox. “We do it all here.”

Chilling Out
Coffee does not have to be steaming hot. According to “Drinking Trends 2003,” published by the New York City-based National Coffee Association, more than two million people a day reach for an iced coffee drink.

· Dunkin’ Donuts heralded the arrival of summer, 2004, with free iced coffee day in participating shops in five states. Customers ages 18 and over were offered a free 16-ounce cup.

All stores in the Randolph, Mass.-based chain offer the trademarked summer Coolatta, a slush drink made with coffee extract, plus iced coffee, and iced lattes in five flavors—hazelnut, vanilla, cinnamon, caramel and mocha. All are available in regular or decaffeinated versions and can be topped with whipped cream.

· The signature Cafe Granita, a frozen beverage with a strong coffee flavor softened by a hint of chocolate, is a big seller at the PJ’s Coffee and Wine Bars throughout the Southeastern United States. “There’s loads of caffeine in that one,” observes Tanya Mareno, franchise sales director of Metairie, La.-based PJ’s. “Customers get their caffeine two ways.”

Velvet Ice, a cooling beverage that adds vanilla and chocolate flavors to iced coffee, also is popular with PJ’s patrons. The PJ’s chain, a division of the Atlanta-based Raving Brands!, brews specialty coffee for its cold drinks in a 24-hour “cold drip” method: Coarse ground beans are soaked overnight in water, then drained before use. Management believes the process produces a more concentrated flavor than traditional hot brewing.

· Iced drinks are big year round at the Port City Java stores, and not just in the chain’s home state of North Carolina. Port City customers from Iceland to New Jersey order the trademark Slush’n Joe—a blend of coffee, ice, vanilla ice cream, and caramel vanilla syrup, in cold as well as warm weather. Mocha shake, with coffee, premium chocolate and ice cream, also is weather proof.

“Cold drinks are new to a lot of people,” says Don Reynolds, Port City Java founder and COO. “They want to try them out.”

Virginia Gerst is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

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