CT Market Is Attracting More Big, Small Coffee Retailers

In the 1984 film “Moscow on the Hudson,” Robin Williams portrays a Soviet Union-based circus musician who defected to the United States. After standing in long lines for toilet paper and bread, he finds himself overwhelmed by the selection of coffee brands in the American grocery store. Coffee lovers across the United States and Connecticut may feel the same overwhelming choice when driving down the street in search of a cup of Joe. Hartford, for example, has 15 Dunkin’ locations and four Starbucks, as well as a growing list of artisan coffee shops. At least two more national or international vendors plan to expand in the region, with Café Nero, a London-based artisan coffee retailer, and 7 Brew, an Arkansas-based drive-thru coffee shop franchisor, planning to add their first location in New England on Route 5 in Wallingford.

The growth in coffee shop options is not surprising, as 63% of Americans in 2023 chose to drink coffee over any other beverage, including water. Americans drink an estimated 440 million cups of coffee every day and spend an average of $301 million on coffee and related goods daily, or $110 billion per year, with $32.9 billion, or nearly 30%, spent in coffee shops.

The competition for coffee drinkers’ dollars is fierce, but artisan coffee shop owners like Michael Acosta and two business partners have not deterred them. They opened Story and Soil Coffee in July 2017 and now have two locations, one at 387 Capitol Ave. in Hartford and the other at 413 Main St. in Middletown, near Wesleyan University. Acosta said that people are more familiar with the industry, having Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts as their reference points.

The coffee served at Story and Soil may cost more than consumers are used to spending, but it is more of a personal touch, not as convenient or commercial as they were used to. Acosta’s customers generally seek out small local cafes because of the kind of experience they receive, including personalized service or eccentric baristas. However, the coffee they serve makes them a destination.

Acosta is careful to note that the idea of artisan coffee had been in the Hartford region before his shop existed, but just not in Hartford proper. The goal of opening in the city was to offer a “level of craft” that did not exist in the market. It exists now, and has forced major national retailers like Dunkin’ and Starbucks to keep a close eye on what local artisan shops serve.

In an effort to improve that experience, Story and Soil Coffee closed for a few weeks in February to renovate a lower level and add 20 seats. They are now hoping to expand their ability to host guests and do various community-oriented things that they started with and then halted during the pandemic.

Jill Interlandi, owner of DoNo Cafe, also hopes to separate her coffee shop from the others. She opened early in January and has a mixed clientele, mostly a combination of those looking to get their coffee or tea and go, and “espresso snobs.” They are more kind of coffee connoisseurs who want a good roast and enjoy a good solid cup of coffee or espresso.

While her cafe lies in the shadow of Dunkin’ Park, Interlandi says she is not intimidated by the national chains. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, “a lot more people appreciate small businesses and try to support small businesses,” she said.

7 Brew, a drive-thru coffee shop, is set to establish its first New England location in Connecticut. The company, which started in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2018, has grown significantly since adding its 100th coffee stand in June 2023. With an estimated annual revenue of over $160 million, 7 Brew is aiming to establish its first New England location in Wallingford. The company will first demolish the existing building at 905 North Colony Road, currently home to Captain Seas restaurant, and then truck in a new one. The coffee stand, which is 510 square feet and built off-site, is expected to employ 50 “brewistas,” with the majority part-timers.

Parmar and Rohan Kapoor, managing partners of Drive Thru Brew LLC, believe that 7 Brew has a unique business model that sets it apart from other coffee shops in Connecticut. The drive-thru experience is different from other coffee shops, with customers being greeted by the staff and their coffee being hand-delivered. The stand also offers tea, smoothies, shakes, and energy drinks, including the self-branded Seven Energy.

Parmar believes that 7 Brew has a place in the market due to its unique business model and the ability to customize its drinks 20,000 different ways. He is confident that 7 Brew will succeed in the Connecticut market.

Read More @ Hartford Business

Suggested Reading