Coffee franchising might not qualify as a leading economic indicator, but better times definitely spur investor activity.
Dan Hawkins, vice president of Medford-based coffee drive-thru franchiser Human Bean, said investor interest slowed to a trickle during the depths of the recession.
The spigot is flowing full force once again. No fewer than nine drive-thrus are slated to open this year, boosting the total to nearly 60 in eight states.
"It got real quiet in 2009 and 2010," Hawkins said. "We used to get franchise inquiries once a week. Now, we're getting one or two a day. The market seems to be hot for franchising. It seems like someone put the accelerator down, not just here but all across the country."
Last week, longtime restaurateurs Dave and Doneta Thomason acquired three Grants Pass Human Bean locations, previously operated by the company. They are adding the coffee stops to their lengthy portfolio of 29 businesses, ranging from Elmers Restaurants and Purple Parrot Delis to the Taprock NW Grill Restaurant and Convention Center in Grants Pass.
The Thomasons' daughter, Danae, has relocated to Grants Pass from Southern California and will oversee operations.
Human Bean entered Grants Pass in 2003, added a second location in 2004 and a third two years later. Hawkins said Thomason is considering adding one or two more locations in town, as well.
"It's very advantageous to have someone like Dave operating in Grants Pass," Hawkins said. "He's been such a large part of that community."
Thomason is sizing up other market areas, as well, Hawkins said.
Human Bean already has opened three new spots this year, including one in Boise earlier this spring. Another one in Vancouver, Wash., is slated to open within the next two weeks. Rapid growth, however, has never been the overriding factor.
"We can accommodate rapid growth, but we're very picky," Hawkins said. "We deny a lot of locations because we are so picky when it comes to criteria and site selection. From what we've learned over the last 16 years, we won't sway from criteria."
Passion for the industry and coffee operations is just as important as the ability to plop down the $20,000 franchise fee.
"We're very cognizant about who we have as a franchisee," Hawkins said. "We want to assure a good partnership, because it's like a marriage, where we're talking to the people every day. It's important we bond with them and that they share our passion to be the best double-sided drive-thru in the coffee industry. If there is any indication the passion doesn't exist, then they're not for us and we're not for them."
Colorado is among the states ticketed for expansion in the coming months. It's a long way from the Rockies to the Appalachians, where some of the early franchise locations opened in North Carolina. But that's a challenge Hawkins accepts.
"We've got a large gap to fill in," he said. "We're going to slowly fill that."