AUBURN — Matt Peirson didn't have to say a word Tuesday afternoon about the success of his business, Simple Roast Coffee Co. It was the first day of the soft opening of the company's second drive-thru kiosk, located in Towne Center Plaza on Auburn's west end. And within a span of 15 minutes, Peirson and his staff had served almost as many customers.
Saturday will be the grand opening of the kiosk, which comes two and a half years after Peirson opened Simple Roast's first location in Grant Avenue Plaza. Speaking Tuesday, he said he knew by last summer that a second location was necessary. Lines for Simple Roast's coffee were growing longer and longer, leaving customers more and more frustrated.
Peirson, who roasts his own coffee beans at a West Street facility, believes the quality of his product is a small reason for Simple Roast's success. The bigger one, he continued, is customer service.
"People like to have a good experience here, a friendly face," he said. "We remember their drinks. We know their dogs, we know their kids. We know when they're driving their wife's car."
In search of where to build that second location, Peirson scouted Auburn properties for several months, he said. The Towne Center Plaza site not only gave him the space required of a drive-thru, but on the opposite side of the city from the other Simple Roast, it's positioned to attract its own pool of caffeine seekers. That stretch of West Genesee Street sees average annual daily traffic of 10,458 compared to 13,123 by Grant Avenue Plaza, according to the state Department of Transportation. And the new kiosk is closer to downtown, sparing customers there the drive down Grant Avenue.
The 275-square-foot kiosk was built in one of the plaza's outparcels, close to the road. Aside from 2 feet of extra length to fit another refrigerator, the new Simple Roast is virtually identical to the first one, which previously hosted Nana's Cafe and Custard's Last Stand. After two and a half years operating that location, Peirson said, he's learned how to make the most efficient use of such limited space. He now has two baristas working at all times, with a bar-back in the morning and, if they get busier, afternoons as well. Overall, Simple Roast employs 16, eight at each kiosk.
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Peirson also learned that Simple Roast's original food selections weren't conducive to its coffee service: Preparing bagels and breakfast sandwiches only made waits longer. So he swapped those items for seasonal drinks and specials. Those join coffee staples like lattes and mochas, as well as chai, smoothies and more on the menu, which is the same at both Simple Roast locations, Peirson said.
With his trusted baristas holding down the kiosks, Peirson now spends almost all of his work time roasting coffee beans. He was going through 20 pounds of coffee a week after he opened the first Simple Roast kiosk, he said. By the time the second opened, he was roasting 500 pounds a week. That includes not only the 60 to 70 retail bags sold and the four or five 30-pound bins used weekly at the kiosk, but also the wholesale accounts Simple Roast has attracted. Peirson has already upgraded his roaster from making 5-pound batches to almost 20-pound ones, he said.
He may have to upgrade again after one of Simple Roast's wholesale accounts opens: Auburn Public Theater's café. Scheduled to open later this year, the café will both serve Peirson's coffee and sell his beans. Having his coffee available downtown, in a sit-down setting, will satisfy a common request Peirson hears from customers, he said. But he has no plans to build a Simple Roast café: He prefers the customer experience of the drive-thru. And after opening his second one, he's trying to keep pace with a business that's doing three times the numbers he planned to do.
"I never expected this to be so popular," he said. "I'm obviously incredibly humble and glad that it is, but it isn't what I expected."