How Dutch Bros. Coffee Conquered Oregon’s Soul

Our hyper-sugary drive-thru coffee empire is expanding rapidly. Here’s what you need to know.

By Marty Patail May 19, 2016 Published in the June 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Dutch Bros

By the Numbers

1992: Year founded (in Grants Pass, Oregon)

265: Total number of Dutch Bros locations today

7: Number of states with Dutch Bros

$289m: Total revenue in 2015

Ultimate Success Formula

Know your specific outcome. Take massive action to get it. Ask yourself if the action you’re taking is working. If it’s not, change it until it does.  —Credo from Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins, the 1986 self-help book Travis Boersma credits for the Dutch Bros success and expansion.

Not-So-Secret Menu

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Image: Dutch Bros

Three of the chain’s 20+ unofficial options:

The S’mores Breve Latte White chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate macadamia and brown sugar cinnamon syrup.

Creamsicle Frost Orange frost” smoothie mixed with a “vanilla frost” smoothie.

The Whip Stick A straw with a globe of whipped cream on the end.

Viral Culture

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On March 19, 2016, a Dutch Bros customer in Vancouver, Washington, snapped a photo of four baristas reaching out of their serving window to pray with a woman whose husband had died the night before. Social media went wild. “She was showing raw emotion towards us so we gave it right back to her,” one of the employees told KGW News. “She just shook all of our hands and wiped her face and said, ‘Thank you.’"

Q&A With Cofounder Travis Boersma

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Image: Dutch Bros

So, Trav, how did you get started? It was 1991, and my brother Dane was running the family dairy business in Grants Pass. He was 38 at the time. I was 21, a college student in Ashland. We were third-generation dairy farmers. But it had all sorts of profitability challenges. Having to sell the herd—we thought that was devastating at the time. Dane, was like, “Geez, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go get a job at Walmart or Fred Meyer.” And I looked at him and I said, “Dude. You gotta do something other than that. Maybe we oughta get into the coffee business. We can get an espresso cart.” And he’s like, “What’s espresso?”

Was that surprising to you? A lot of people in ’91 or ’92 didn’t know what espresso coffees were. Starbucks was still really small. I had memories of this espresso cart that Nordstrom’s had up at Pioneer [Courthouse] Square. I remember being 8 or 9 years old and seeing the steam rising up in the air. I was mesmerized by it.

So you got an espresso cart … We were conditioned to working on a dairy farm: getting up at 2 in the morning, milking cows. So when we had the espresso cart it was like, we get to listen to music and BS with people all day and get paid for it? [laughs] Back then, we’d take 30 bucks a day each, and that’s what we lived on. Everything else we would roll back into the business.

How has the company changed?  There was a big shift in 2008. Dane was in his last year of fighting through ALS. [He died in 2009.] The culture was a focal point, always, but we really thought we were in the coffee business. But the thing that occurred to me is we were in the relationship business and the product was love. That tipped the scales. When we made made the culture the no. 1 priority, it was pretty pivotal. 

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