Thursday, February 29, 2024

Dutch Bros opening in Fountain Valley draws pre-dawn crowd of hundreds

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Hundreds of people descended upon Fountain Valley today to get their hands on Dutch Bros coffee, energy drinks and other beverages from the company’s vast menu. The Oregon-based drive-through coffee empire opened its first Orange County location on Friday, Feb 9.

With the first customer arriving around 10 p.m the night before, coffee zealots came from as far away as Arizona to try out the chain’s latest store on Magnolia Street in the Village Shopping Center. A line of cars snaked out of the shopping plaza and down the street by 8.a.m. An employee, decked out in hues of pink with butterfly-winged shoes, carried a large sign with rainbow felt lettering that read, “Questions? I can recommend a drink.” A gaggle of employees from the Lancaster Dutch Bros came to support the new store. The mass anticipation was palpable, giving credence to the company’s cult-like status.

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“I was here at 5 a.m. with my kid, but left to drop him off at school, then came back to wait in line again,” sad Pilar Vidal of Huntington Beach, who eschewed the line of cars to wait in the queue of people lined up outside the walk-up window. “I love the different options they give you, and they make any coffee to your liking,” she adds.

Vidal added that she had planned on driving to Las Vegas this week specifically to go to Dutch Bros, but after hearing about the Fountain Valley opening, she stuck close to home. “This is going to get me addicted, being so close.”

After waiting in line, customers carried their caffeine-spiked hauls back to their cars. Some sat in SUVs with the back doors open in order to enjoy their very first Dutch Bros. The shopping plaza resembled a pre-game outside SoFi stadium.

Colleagues and friends Jocelyn Ortizano and Ally Cruz, who hail from Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa, respectively, arrived at 6 a.m. and waited in line roughly an hour before getting their drinks. Ortizano opted for the Golden Eagle Chai Tea while Cruz enjoyed the Kicker, a blend of espresso, half and half and Irish cream syrup.

“It has such a cult following, we had to come. We will definitely be back,” Ortizano said.

The secret to Dutch Bros’ success, in addition to its dizzying array of espresso beverages, energy drinks, smoothies and muffin tops, is its focus on sweetening relationships with customers. Oscar Moreno, Dutch Bros corporate trainer — or, as he clarified, “a mobster,” the sobriquet given to all Dutch Bros employees — said, “This is the biggest Dutch Bros opening in my history with the company.”

Lance Risser, vice president of field operations for Dutch Bros, concurred, saying, “This is unlike anything I’ve seen before in my 17 years with the company.” He notes that Friday’s opening marks the company’s 856th location.

“People are attracted to our hospitality and our service,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of companies that want to fill cups besides coffee; we’re going after relationships with our customers. Don’t get me wrong, our drinks are fantastic, but if people aren’t leaving here without a smile on their faces, then our job isn’t done.”

Risser revealed that a second Dutch Bros, which will be located a stone’s throw from its latest one at Magnolia and Warner, is tentatively set to open in fall of 2024. Another location will open in La Habra either in late 2024 or early 2025.

SEE ALSO: Cult-favorite coffee shop Dutch Bros opening first OC location this week

Why is Dutch Bros is so beloved with such intensity, especially in the midst of a third-wave coffee movement that’s seen both chains and independent coffee shops sprout up in nearly every American neighborhood? Moreno says it boils down to human connection.

“People can go anywhere, but they don’t get the kind of customer service that we have,” he said. “We ask every single customer how their day is going. It can throw them off, not being used to it, but it helps us understand who we’re serving. I can learn who might have, say, a diabetic condition and offer them something suitable. I can learn who might prefer oat milk to dairy. It’s a way to set the bar and go above and beyond it.”

Inside the 950-square-foot space, employees brimmed with energy due in large part to the EDM music filing the room. The “green beans,” the company’s affectionate term for new employees, helped customers through the drive-through and walk-up windows, with Moreno conducting all of the day-one action.

The long line of drivers, who began queuing up late the night before and stretched down to Oak and Talbert Streets by mid-morning, were monitored by both Dutch Bros staff (armed with tablets to take orders from drivers à la In-N-Out) using company-branded cones, as well a a handful of police officers standing by.  This kind of frenzied reception is nothing new to Dutch Bros, where people come from all over to taste the company’s goods.

SEE ALSO: 15 Southern California coffee shops with creative, quirky themes

“We were expecting it to be busy, but this is even bigger than I had expected,” said Tiara Loville, who recently moved from Denver to Fountain Valley in order to operate the Fountain Valley shop. “In fact, we did our morning dub shot with the first 10 customers at around 4 a.m.” For the uninitiated, the dub-shot ritual is a morning practice Dutch Bros bro-istas (the preferred term Dutch Bros employees use in lieu of “barista”) wherein they drink two shots of espresso in unison to get the day going and the energy bumped up.

Wait times from when cars pulled up to the window, got their order, and drove away varied from two to five minutes. Within that time, employees chatted with their new customer base, inquiring about their jobs, general preferences and overall mood.

Dutch Bros, conceived in 1992 by brothers Dane and Travis Boersma in Grants Pass, Ore., features beverages that are whimsical in name and flavor profile. A few examples? The Caramelizer, featuring espresso, chocolate milk, caramel sauce and whipped cream; the Double Torture, a double shot of espresso laced with vanilla syrup, chocolate milk and whipped cream; and the company’s signature brand of fizzy Rebel energy drinks in such iterations as Aftershock with strawberry, blackberry, raspberry and lime or the Golden Gate Rebel, featuring passion fruit and a strawberry float topping it off.[

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