Serving the caffeine rush

Kiosk: Gourmet coffee drinkers who are pressed for time can fill up here with fuel for their java drive.

September 03, 2001|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Her three children are strapped safely in the back of the sport utility vehicle, and Elise Reekie needs her morning latte for the drive to sports camp.

But there's no time to get to the nearest gourmet coffee place, unbuckle the kids and strap them back in, so Reekie heads for the drive-through coffee kiosk in Edgewater for her large almond skim milk latte.

"I need my special coffee; it's psychological," Reekie says.

For other picky coffee drinkers pressed for time, Coffe No Delay has become a lifesaver. It's the latest West Coast trend to make its way east, and another way for Americans to spend even more time in their cars.

"It's the best thing for moms," Reekie says. "I can't take all my kids out of the truck."

Located in a large parking lot between Caddy Shack Cars and Edgewater Liquors on busy Route 214, Coffe No Delay has been steadily attracting business since it opened in January.

The 10-by-10-foot coffee shack is owned by four Edgewater residents - a lawyer, a podiatrist, a chiropractor and a construction engineer - who figured that coffee and convenience would be an irresistible combination for busy commuters.

"Unfortunately, we're all in a hurry," says owner John Greene, an Annapolis lawyer. "I think we have a real solid customer base of people who want to drive through quickly and still have their lattes and cappuccinos."

"Americans have a fascination with doing things in cars, whether it's eating hamburgers or banking," says Ted Lingle, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a nonprofit trade association whose 2,500 members include retailers, roasters and growers.

He says that espresso drive-throughs are a fixture out west, even in remote areas.

"I just got back from a meeting in Portland, [Ore.,]" Lingle says, "and along a rural highway I must have passed four or five."

Anne Arundel County appears to be a hotbed for drive-through coffee. A second Coffe No Delay kiosk is in Millersville and the owners plan to open a third in Severna Park. Another operation, Seattle Style Coffee, opened a drive-through kiosk in Crownsville a year ago, and is about to open another in Severna Park.

The fancy coffee-to-go concept began about five years ago in such states as Washington and Oregon, and has taken hold in other West Coast areas. It's an extension of the interest in gourmet coffee that has flourished across the country as people who used to drink coffee from gas stations or convenience stores have developed more sophisticated tastes.

"America is developing a coffee culture built around the coffee menu," says Lingle. Coffee no longer means a basic cup of joe, but encompasses macchiatos and espresso shots. "Coffee, in the consumer's mind, has become a menu," Lingle says.

On a recent morning at Coffe No Delay, Linda Rae Dixon was ready for dessert. She reached from the car window for a caramel macchiato topped with whipped cream.

"I start my day with them," says Dixon, a regular at the kiosk for the past few months. "I spotted the hut and it says, `espresso and coffee,' and I thought, `Oh man, life is good,'" says the Calvert County resident who stops at the kiosk on her way to work in Annapolis.

The four Coffe No Delay owners decided to open the kiosk two years ago after a couple of them saw the operations on the West Coast. The kiosk averages about 150 cars a day.

"We thought, `Hey, there's a need,'" Greene says. His partners are chiropractor Rich Fidanza, construction engineer Delmer Eugeni and podiatrist Courtney Palmer.

Before opening the business, they made a trip to Seattle to research the kiosks and find a coffee expert. During the next year, they drew on the skills within the group to get the business off the ground. The four friends designed the kiosk, Eugeni took the lead on construction and Fidanza's wife, a designer, created the logo and helped with the artistic touches.

The expert from Seattle came out, set up an espresso machine in Fidanza's home, and taught the group to make gourmet coffee drinks with the perfect topping of milk foam.

"There's definitely a right way and a wrong way to make cappuccinos and lattes," says Greene, who has trained many of Coffe No Delay's 15 employees.

He emphasizes speed and consistency.

"We have to be pretty quick," says Fidanza. "You can't make an espresso in advance."

Inside the kiosk on a recent morning shift, the two employees are keenly aware that people want their caffeine fast. "People are antsy to get going," says Joanne Triantafillides. "Sometimes you recognize the regulars coming up in their cars and can start their drinks if you have time."

Speedy service was definitely on the minds of customers who pulled up to the kiosk - painted white with green trim - on a recent morning. Many say they have replaced their morning coffee treks to convenience stores, gas stations or coffee shops with a stop at the kiosk.

"My kid had basketball down the street on Saturdays, and it was the quickest place to get a cup of coffee," says Jeff Baker of Mayo.

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