On the Shoulders of Giants
Travis Boersma’s Longstanding Career in the Coffee Industry
Born and raised in Grants Pass, Oregon, Travis Boersma, co-founder of Dutch Bros. Coffee, grew up working on the family’s dairy farm, developing a strong work ethic. His work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit catapulted Boersma to venture into founding an espresso business with his brother, Dane, after his father transformed their dairy farm into the Dutcher Creek Golf Course.
“I knew at a young age without question that I was going to do what I wanted to do, however I wanted to do it, no matter what,” Boersma says. It was when Boersma was working for a pizza delivery company that it became evident that he liked being his own boss.
“The owner of the pizza business had just purchased a sign package and required that we put these ridiculous signs on the top of our car,” Boersma says. “I didn’t want to do that so I searched high and low to find a car so I didn’t have to use the sign. I bought a Volkswagon without a top and drove it into work and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know how to install the sign on this car—it doesn’t have a top.’ And the guy said, ‘You know Trav, just drive the car and deliver the pizzas and forget about the sign.’ Because I had purchased a car totally without a top, I had to wear a full beanie, gloves, and down to stay warm. It was cold in Ashland in the winter.”
Whether Boersma was delivering pizzas, milking dairy cows, or installing mufflers, he learned from his various job experiences and realized he wanted to create a culture that he would feel comfortable working in.
That’s where Dutch Bros. Coffee was born. In 1992, due to changing dairy industry policies, Boersma sat down with his brother Dane and talked about what they should do next. Travis was intrigued by the coffee trend starting in the Pacific Northwest.
“I took him to a little stand in Grants Pass that was run by a woman named Bonnie and bought us both a vanilla latte. I remember turning around and Dane had the lid off of his cup and was licking it—we were both hooked,” Boersma says. “We drove through the Northwest, experiencing the coffee world and connected with Paul Leighton in Eugene, Oregon. He got us hooked up with 100 pounds of beans and a single head espresso machine. He’s still our green bean broker to this day. Before long, we set up a pushcart by the railroad tracks in Grants Pass and started handing out free samples to as many people as we could. By 1996 we had six locations and worked with the first franchisee in 1998.”
Today Dutch Bros. Coffee is the country’s largest, privately held, drive-thru coffee company. Rooted in family and involvement, Dutch Bros. Coffee’s mission is to “spread the Dutch Luv.” This vision has resulted in loyal customer base, dubbed the “Dutch Mafia.” Dutch Bros. Coffee also shares this “Dutch Luv” with others—donating more than $1 million annually to nonprofit organizations.
A huge part of Dutch Bros.’ success lies in the company’s proprietary blend of Columbian, Brazilian and El Salvadoran beans, which was perfected for its rich flavor, full body, and sweet finish. They only pull ristretto espresso shots, the traditional Italian-style. Their blend is 50% Rainforest Certified and they are moving toward 100.
“Culture is the key to our success,” Boersma says. “It’s part of the relations with our customers day-in and day-out. It’s also part of the communities we serve. We have a culture of taking care of people—whether they are customers, our community, or the people who work in the company. We are in the relationship business and coffee is simply a way of facilitating those relationships.”
Boersma says handling their rate of growth has been one of the challenging aspects of running Dutch Bros. “Our growth rate is a focal point for the company and that’s challenging,” Boersma says. “The company culture is the number one priority. We strive to cultivate that culture so that it is authentic, true and real as we grow. We want a growth rate that offers the company a compelling future and the people in the company a compelling future, while determining what makes the most sense to do that—but it’s a balancing act. I think the constant never-ending improvement and the mindset of never arriving is part of what drives our company and fuels the success we experience.”
Through his years of success Boersma has learned a tremendous amount about business and life in general. “ Life is like a river and the destination is the ocean and we can navigate our path. But if you start swimming upstream and fighting the current you’ll wear yourself out,” Boersma says. “We don’t’ get to control the way things unfold in this life, in this business, in our families and our worlds, but we get to use the tools and the God-given abilities that we have been blessed with to navigate our way through the problems and challenges that come our way. I think there’s been a tremendous amount of learning that’s taken place in that specific area of my life.”
Boersma also acknowledges that the coffee industry has taught him that coffee is something people really have embraced and they, the consumer, are more educated than ever before.
“The customer today is quite a bit different than it was 22 years ago when we started,” Boersma says. “The millennials want to be creative and come up with things that are signature drinks that they can take pride in developing.”
In owning his business, Boersma never knew what his role would specifically be within the industry. “I was always focused on what the picture would look like and what were the results we wanted,” Boersma says. “In driving toward those outcomes and goals, I never really understood what my job would entail as a leader with those action items. I have had the fascinating journey of learning what those things are as we go along, and as they unfold.”
“My hope is that someday, when I’m long gone, the business is thriving and performing with a method that has major implications and is a difference maker in the world, something that nobody has ever seen before,” Boersma says. “And as far as the industry, I think that from seed-to-cup sustainability, with quality for all the people involved, has got to be the priority. All of the hard work and effort it takes to grow that fragile coffee plant, produce it, and roast it and the whole process from seed-to-cup is something that people can benefit from all along the course. And it’s a quality experience for everybody that’s involved.”