- BigFoot Java News
Drive-Throughs: The Real Deal
For some, enjoying a frothy cup of cappuccino means cuddling
up in a big chair and hanging out with a group of friends
at the neighborhood coffeehouse. For others, it's driving
up to a window, handing over a few bucks, getting a Styrofoam
cup and driving off. More and more coffee drinkers who may
not have time for the former are opting for the latter,
and more and more successful coffeehouse owners are taking
advantage of this grab 'n go world.
Operating a drive-through rather than a sit-down coffee
operation has its definite benefits -- fewer employees and
lower overhead, to name a few. But the same kind of pitfalls
that can happen to a sit-down operation can also make life
in the drive-through the pits. Site availability, securing
financing and high employee turnover can plague any type
But drive-through coffee concepts represent one of the fastest-growing
opportunities in the industry. So, if you've been thinking
of getting in the driver's seat, consider what these four
drive-through owners from across the country have to say
about life in the fast lane.
Well, it just had to happen. Capitalizing on the growing popularity
of the drive-through coffee concept, a group of investors from
the Pacific Northwest got together two years ago to begin a chain
of drive-throughs with the goal of franchising the stores.
The owners are angling to capture the market between the mom-and-pop
independents and the large chains, like Starbucks. "We wanted
to come up with a concept, kind of find a niche somewhere in the
middle," says Al Jiwani, president of BigFoot Franchising
The first prototype BigFoot Java® opened last January in Puyallup,
Wash., in the Greater Puget Sound area. The architecture of the
store is described as neo-northwest and the requisite big foot
is hanging on the sign. The buildings are 400 square feet, Jiwani
The chain employs about 20 full- and part-time employees, including
management. One to three or four employees operate a store at
one time. By being open 24/7, the chain hopes to carve out a niche
that smaller independents don't (and probably don't want to) serve
and large chains have yet to tackle.
Even though the stores are open all the time, on average at the
six stores (including the four that Jiwani had developed originally),
the morning commuting hours represent 50 percent of business.
That why, Jiwani says, when scouting locations, they look for
sites with large anchors, such as supermarkets. "One of the
key things for us to look for is a retail store," he explains.
"Some sort of draw that brings traffic throughout the day."
Jiwani says they hope to be able to offer a franchise product
by late spring or early summer and have 12 to 15 BigFoot stores
open by the end of the year. The overall plan, referred to as
"50 x '05," is to have 50 stores open by 2005.
So far, Jiwani describes business as "phenomenal." Daily
sales are several multiples of the national average (about $400
a day) for drive-throughs, Jiwani says. The average tab is $4,
The challenges, so far, are not unique to BigFoot. "The challenges
are getting the locations, getting them financed, getting them
built, and going through all the entitlements and challenges with
the city," Jiwani says, noting that a BigFoot Java® concepts
costs about $200,000 to develop and build. "It all just takes
Jiwani credits the burgeoning success of the chain to the management
and development team. "We've got real estate expertise, we've
got franchise expertise," he says.
The investors' background combines real estate with coffee, in
addition to the sundry of business interests of the other investors.
Jiwani's primary business is real estate development, focusing
on gas stations, convenience stores and car washes. He started
the drive-through concept in 1998 by developing coffee stands
in the parking lots of some of these businesses. The success of
these drive-throughs spurred Jiwani to team with David Morris,
owner of Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Sumner, Wash., and discuss
the opportunity to develop a professional drive-through.
The group has also set up a marketing program that includes a
customer loyalty program and prepaid gift cards. In addition,
BigFoot Franchising Corporation instituted measures to enhance
its future franchise program, including a planned training center
to be built in Kent, Wash.
The drive-through industry is in a frenzy and many are very excited
about the prospects. But Jiwani advises anyone who is considering
opening a drive-through concept to stick to the fundamentals.
Location, he says, is a big deal. Choose the right one and you've
got it made. A wrong one and ... well, Jiwani admits, "You
put a BigFoot Java® in a secondary location, you're going
to get creamed."
Specialty Coffee Retailer - February 2003