When Caribou Coffee opened this winter in northeast Brainerd people questioned whether that was a good location.
Patty Harms, store manager, said they heard those comments as well. People were saying a Baxter location would be better than Brainerd and the northeast side in particular.
But a strange thing happened on the way to the bank.
The store's first day, Dec. 18, was the second biggest opening day in the history of Caribou Coffee. The chain has 263 stores. And it was second only to an opening in Chicago and not by much.
"It was overwhelming," Harms said. "It was way bigger than we expected."
Opening just the week before Christmas, the store was also competing with stores that opened five weeks earlier. Harms said business has remained strong and they continue to move merchandise faster than other stores.
"It really hasn't leveled off a whole lot," Harms said. "I think it turned out to be a great location."
Harms who worked at two Caribou Coffee stores in the Twin Cities, said the Brainerd store bucks a trend there by having busy afternoons. Although the 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. hour is probably the busiest with about 50 people going through in that hour.
Deb Lasher, manager in training, who is from the area, said she wondered herself when the location was first announced. Now she is surprised by the number of people driving from Baxter. Lasher will be store manager for the planned Caribou Coffee in Baxter. A location has yet to be determined, but store developers are continuing to look for a site. They typically lease locations.
With news of Caribou Coffee moving to Baxter, customers in Brainerd have expressed concern the store was leaving its northeast location. But Caribou Coffee likes to open "buddy" stores and Brainerd just happened to be the first spot, Lasher said.
Patty Harms (left), Caribou Coffee store manager in Brainerd, sat with Deb Lasher, manager in training, last week. The store had the second biggest opening in the company's history. (Dispatch Photos by Renee Richardson)
"I'd be surprised if Baxter beats this spot," she said of the Brainerd store's sales. One thing people do not often consider is where people work in the area, who tend to be the backbone of daily beverage drinkers, Lasher said. She noted nearby BISYS offices, workers commuting to Nortech Systems in Merrifield and Brainerd Regional Human Services Center employees.
"People don't visit those places so they don't think of the people who work there," Lasher said. "This is a habit for them -- they stop here everyday."
Seated at a table in the store, Harms looked out the large plate glass windows at the passing traffic on a blustery winter afternoon. Harms said people keep telling her to just wait for the fishing opener. With a history of coming to the lakes area, Harms said she knows the route is a main one for traffic to Crosslake and Crosby. There are also thoughts of the summer sound of softball and the regular users of the ball fields just down Mill Avenue.
Caribou Coffee is taking up just part of the spot vacated when Northwood Turf and Power left the exterior corner of the East Brainerd Mall. But Harms said they do not have plans to expand into additional space. They like the neighborhood feel of the store's current size.
The popular drink is a turtle mocha. The store, with about 70 bottles of caramel on hand each week, went through so much caramel they ran out twice in the first two weeks. The breve drink appeals to low-carb dieters and other drinks, such as an Oreo or mint snodrifts, hot apple blast and strawberry banana smoothies, appeal to those who are not into coffee. Customers who answer a daily trivia question get a little discount.
The store employs about 15 people and still receives six to eight applications a day.
The area has had an explosion of coffee houses. Lasher said they counted one day and found 15 options to get espresso-based coffee in the immediate area. Both Harms and Lasher said they are only set off by Caribou's reputation and customer service.
Harms said they pride ourselves on knowing customer's names and preferred drinks and greeting those people by name. She said unlike other Caribou Coffee's she has seen customers come in and sit with their coffees, especially like on Saturday and Sunday.
"I think that's all the windows and homey feel," she said. Young people come in during the afternoon with homework and books and meet friends. In the morning, the regular customers are also getting to know each other.
Lasher said they come in now and chat as they place orders and say "'I'll see you tomorrow in line.'"
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