Cult coffeehouse chain, Dutch Bros, roared into Brunswick, AKA Burger Basin, this April, and pretty much any time of day, you can see 20 some-odd cars snaking around the blue-roofed building. If you’ve never been, you may have wondered just what the hype is about. Is there something more exciting going on there than coffee?
For those who love it, Dutch Bros (prounounced “broh-s”, not brothers) is to Starbucks what unicorns are to horses. Aggressively cheerful young employees take your order while you wait in the drive-thru line, (there’s also a walk-up window) and they’re allowed to blast their own music. On a recent afternoon, it was the band My Chemical Romance.
The menu features a massive selection of guilty-pleasure beverages like the “9-1-1” and “the Annihilator”, full of caffeine and flavored syrups. Pastel daisies and lightning bolts decorate the menu, and customers receive a free whimsical sticker at the beginning of each month. For many, a spin through Dutch Bros feels like the gateway to your weekend, even if you’re actually about to start your Monday night graveyard shift at Safeway.
“The energy they give off is just contagious,” says local Dutch Bros fan Kayla Holt, a mom who works in the medical field. She typically orders something called a Nutty Irishman Freeze (a hazelnut-Irish cream-flavored blended iced coffee) or an OG Gummy Bear Rebel, from the company’s proprietary line of energy drinks.
Dutch Bros, which started in Grants Pass, Oregon in 1992, has been rapidly expanding westwards, with now 459 locations stretching as far as Texas and Oklahoma. Its arrival in Grass Valley was met with a surprising absence of pushback, considering the griping inspired by a Wendy’s drive-thru going into the former Paulette’s Kitchen. Grass Valley Planning Commissioner Greg Bulanti says that was partly because Dutch Bros’ design didn’t look as if it would cause traffic problems.
“It was pretty much a self-contained, multi-circular drive-thru,” says Bulanti. “It was very organized in how they get cars through.”
On a recent morning at 9:10 a.m., it took exactly 12 minutes to get through the drive-thru line; two minutes longer than the Starbucks drive-thru on Freeman Lane in Grass Valley. However, the two parallel lines of traffic feeding through Dutch Bros’ drive-thru were safely ensconced in the parking lot. At Starbucks, I was forced to idle in the middle of Freeman, with through-traffic weaving around me, drivers honking angrily.
The mostly young female Dutch Bros’ employees were chatty, asking me about my day plans and offering my dog a “Puppuccino” (whipped cream with a doggy biscuit), which I declined.
“The bottom line is we’re a bright spot in customers’ days,” says Heather Mauer, who owns the GV location with her husband, as well as two other Dutch Bros franchises in Auburn and Rocklin. During the hiring process, if a job candidate disses past employers, she says, they’re weeded out for potentially causing bad vibes. “We look for people who are upbeat, optimistic and positive,” says Mauer.
Of course not everyone is a Dutch Bros fan. 17-year old Nevada City high school student, Emma Kelly, says the coffee chain is uniquely polarizing: “You either really, really like it, or you hate it. There’s no in between.” Kelly says she prefers the “no frills” of Starbucks. However she knows plenty of young people who like the feeling of “intense shock” brought on by many of Dutch Bros’ drinks, such as the “Shark Attack Rebel,” which in its large size, contains 133 grams of sugar, the equivalent of 26 teaspoons. Case in point, on a recent trip I felt extremely alert (I believe the term that came to mind was “cracked out”) after drinking a small coconut-mocha ice blended drink (“Cocomo freeze”) with 58 grams of sugar.
Of course, you can get a plain old latte at Dutch Bros, and there’s even regular hot coffee, like your great-great-grandfather drank. But there is something about Dutch Bros that makes you want to live a little, and buy something that would mix well with Malibu Rum. Maybe it brings out the teen in us. And apparently there are a lot of us that don’t want to grow up.
Featured image by Abbey Gerpheide.