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A NEW 'MOMMA': Big Momma's Coffee and Espresso Bar owner and CEO Lyle Foster says a new drive-thru is "a pandemic pivot."
Rebecca Green | SBJ
A NEW 'MOMMA': Big Momma's Coffee and Espresso Bar owner and CEO Lyle Foster says a new drive-thru is "a pandemic pivot."

Matter of Convenience: Coffee shop owners invest in drive-thrus to meet customer demand

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As Big Momma’s Coffee and Espresso Bar LLC reached a milestone anniversary this year, it also marked an expansion for the business beyond its longtime Commercial Street home.

Owner and CEO Lyle Foster said the drive-thru location for his 15-year-old company had its soft opening Nov. 28 at 1620 N. Boonville Ave. It fills an 800-square-foot building, formerly a Commerce Bank branch, which closed in early 2018, according to bank officials.

The Big Momma’s drive-thru, roughly a four-minute walk from the restaurant’s 217 E. Commercial St. shop, is what Foster calls “a pandemic pivot.” It’s a term he said he’s frequently heard amid the coronavirus pandemic. The second location, a $50,000 investment, is a response to what he sees as a change in customer preferences.

“The pandemic has caused a lot of consumer habits to change. Sometimes, you wonder if those changes are for a season or a few months,” Foster said. “In some cases, there are habits that have changed for the foreseeable future. There are some people who just prefer to stay in their car when it comes to certain kinds of purchases. We have a fast-food culture and that’s definitely applied to coffee shops.”

Big Momma’s joins the drive-thru coffee shop model on the rise in the Springfield area, as newcomers, such as 7 Brew Coffee and Urban Grounds LLC, have debuted over the past year.

Like Big Momma’s, downtown staple Mudhouse Coffee also expanded this fall, adding a drive-thru option at its new Ozark shop at 5146 N. 22nd St. in the Station II Plaza shopping center.

Fast service
While indoor seating is available at both locations of Mudhouse, seats are nowhere to be found for the chain of shops of Fayetteville, Arkansas-based 7 Brew, which opened in 2017 and has 33 locations, according to its website.

Three of those shops are in Springfield, all brought to town by franchisees Chris Sebald, Brandon Sebald and Larry Wilson via Brew Crew LLC. The trio also since the start of the year have opened franchise locations in Branson and Lebanon, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. A fourth local 7 Brew shop currently is being sought by developer Royce Reding of Reding Management LLC and Redec LLC. He is seeking a conditional-use permit for a drive-thru at the corner of Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue. [See page 7 for coverage on this permit debate by Springfield City Council.]

Chris Sebald previously told SBJ the company’s shops, which are in prefabricated buildings of less than 600 square feet, typically feature dual drive-thru lanes with the intention to quickly get customers their drinks – usually two to five minutes upon placing their order.

Mary Rolf, who co-owns three Scooter’s Coffee franchise stores in the Springfield area, said her company’s coffee preparation time is even faster. From the time a customer places their order, the goal is to have it ready in 60 seconds.

“We always joke around and say, ‘Pretend that your pants are on fire, and you have to get that drink made before you get out.’ The team has a good time with it,” Rolf said, noting she and ex-husband John Rolf are partners in the stores developed through JMBSR Enterprises LLC. “We like to hire competitive people who are in there competing against themselves on the time, but the equipment operates pretty quickly, and we just hit a rhythm.”

The Rolfs opened their first store as franchisees of the Omaha, Nebraska-based company in 2017. In late 2016, when the owners announced plans to launch their first Springfield location, Scooter’s operated more than 150 stores in 13 states, according to past reporting. The 1998-founded company is now approaching 600 stores in 27 states, according to its website.

Scooter’s franchisees can choose between drive-thru only kiosk models, typically less than 630 square feet, or a combo drive-thru and seated coffeehouse, which ranges 1,600-2,000 square feet. Rolf said they chose kiosks for all three of their stores, declining to disclose their total investment.

“It allows for faster service. Expenses are lower as you don’t have the overhead of operating a coffeehouse,” she said. “You can be a little bit quicker focusing on the drive-thru only.”

The estimated cost to open a Scooter’s drive-thru kiosk ranges $794,000-$1.2 million, including a $40,000 franchise fee, according to its website.

The website for 7 Brew doesn’t list franchise fees and Sebald didn’t return messages by press time.

Scooter’s and 7 Brew contributed to a healthy uptick in U.S. coffee sales this year. According to the annual Project Cafe USA 2023 industry report by the Allegra Group’s World Coffee Portal, sales by branded coffee shops increased 10% in the 12 months ending in June 2022 to reach $45.8 billion. Sales are forecasted to grow to roughly $56 billion by 2027.

According to the report, there are now 38,411 branded coffee shops in the U.S., which is the world’s largest consumer of the beverage. The total is 2.8% more than before the pandemic. The report said the nation’s three largest coffee operators, Starbucks Corp. (Nasdaq: SBUX), Dunkin’ and Panera Bread, all boosted their U.S. market presence, reaching 15,650, 9,262 and 2,173 stores, respectively.

Starbucks’ website lists 19 stores – eight of which offer drive-thru service – in the Queen City. It has a total market share in the U.S. of 41%, according to the report.

The most recent Starbucks in Springfield opened at 2817 N. Kansas Expressway, according to officials. The shop, which is near Interstate 44, has a drive-thru.

In the company’s most recent earnings report, Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz said its convenience channels, including drive-thrus, mobile orders and delivery, drove 72% of total sales volume in the U.S. during the third quarter.

Additionally, Target (NYSE: TGT) began teaming in November with Starbucks to offer its beverages and food at 240 stores through its free curbside service. The retailer is providing the Starbucks service in California, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, according to Target’s website.

Staying power
Foster said the trend of coffee shop drive-thrus is here to stay.

“People are really just looking at what they perceive as convenience,” Foster said, adding he still hears people express hesitation to frequent indoor spaces, including coffee shops.

Rolf said some of her customers view getting coffee through the drive-thru more as a weekly treat to themselves rather than an everyday must when going to work. The traditional coffee shop of people relaxing and visiting over a cup of joe isn’t going away, she said.

“I’d say the coffeehouses are more about the socialization part, kind of chilling with the internet and as an office away from home these days,” she said.

Still, the pandemic proved to be a boost to the local Scooter’s shops, Rolf said. Revenue in 2020 jumped 30% over 2019, she said, declining to disclose figures.

“We still have a little growth. It’s obviously not quite the large jump it was (in 2020),” she said of revenue over the past two years. “Everybody’s creatures of habit. We’ve been able to advertise and market more. But word of mouth really has kept us on continual growth.”

Big Momma’s new location will serve a limited menu of its coffee and espresso drinks and pastries, Foster said, adding he hopes to draw from several of the larger businesses near Commercial Street, such as Cox North Hospital and City Utilities of Springfield. The shop also will offer lunch in the next month or so from Queen City Soul Kitchen, which Foster co-owns with Francine Pratt.

“We wanted to respond to what we saw as a trend that’s in place. We wanted to serve our customers with a drive-thru component,” he said. “People in the U.S. just seem to love to sit in lines for their coffee drinks and other kind of products.”


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