Opening a drive-thru and exchanging advice


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Dec 29, 2003
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I could have sworn I posted to this message board before, but I cannot find my previous message.

We have been in the espresso coffee business off and on for 14 years. We've had two walk-in coffee shops in Oregon and Idaho. We've recently moved to Missouri and we have decided to open a drive-thru. We have our equipment and we know what we are doing as far as working with health department and running this sort of business.

What we DON'T know is how to set up a portable business. We will have power at the site...but we need to use tanks for water and gray water. We are building our own 8x10 building...which is a bit overwhelming. We just can't afford to spend the fortune many coffee kiosk/drive-thru manufacturers are asking. We would love to have someone to bounce questions off of. We've seen coffee consultants out there who offer advice, but it seems that we really don't need this service as these are geared to the beginning coffee shop owner.

At the same time...we are happy to help others who might have general coffee shop questions.

Coffee Shop

I just had to respond. We too have had an espresso shop which was drive-thru in Missouri. We just relocated to Oregon and are opening a drive-thru as well. It would be great to exchange some ideas.

One more thing, you noted your building an 8 x 10 building. We also recently decided to build our own as well. Right now I just need to draw the plans, it seems so silly to pay another company thousands of dollars to build one. My step-father has volunteered to build it, did you get your plans anywhere online?
Pilgrim:We've seen coffee consultants out there who offer advice, but it seems that we really don't need this service as these are geared to the beginning coffee shop owner.

[cbc:Right now I just need to draw the plans, it seems so silly to pay another company thousands of dollars to build one.

I just had to chime in. Since you are both experienced in the coffee business, it should be easier to start the next one, especially if your previous one was successful. There is nothing wrong with investing for the expertise (time) of a consultant to help you start something you are not familiar with? Most consultants (myself included) usually don't mind answering a few questions, it's when the questions become more detailed in nature, then the clock begins to tick. There really isn't anything new under the sun, just how you apply your time and effort. As for drive thru buildings, if you can build it to code, that's always a good way to go and if you consider going 8X12 or 10X12 you will allow yourself a little more elbow room, 3 compartment sink, and a little more storage space.

Just thought I'd throw my 2 cents in... :D
Drive Thru's

I too am in the process of opening drive thru's in MIchigan. I am having a building built by a pre fab manufacturer. It will be shipped to the site and set on a slab. Self contained plumbing, i.e. grey water and spring water bottles. Mine is 10 X 12 with a 3-comp sink and mop sink, both of which are required by health depts. here.
Drive Thru's

My next question: What is an alternative to a dipper well. I will be using bottled spring water and couldn't possibly use a dipper well. Are there any alternatives that the health department would approve?
Hi rbduha:

I'm not familiar with the term dipper well? Are you speaking of an actual well for your water, or tap water from a spicket? Using bottled water will be quite expensive and will cause your cost of goods to go through the ceiling. Are you able to find a location that has water lines or someone close enough that you can fill using fresh water tanks? I'd look for those things first.
I'm glad I found this forum! We are currently building a drive-thru operation as well. Sounds like we have a lot more requirements here (WAshington) as far as codes go! Our building will be 8x16 and we are required to have a wheelchair accessible employee restroom, 3 comp. sink, hand sink (actually 2 hand sinks;one in the restroom and one in the work area), mop sink, etc. Right now we are waiting for the official building permit, meanwhile my husband has been doing the framing.

In our experience, the health dept. is easy enough to please, but the planning and zoning is where we've had to make changes and make sure that we do everything exactly as they require. Its not necessary to have professional plans drawn up, but I'd certainly be in close contact with county departments to avoid costly mistakes.

Since this is a new endeavor for me, I'd love to hear from others who have been there....I'd really like to hear about some of the day to day issues of running such a business....the things I won't find out otherwise until we are open and operating. I've been holding off on buying 2 pieces of equipment....the brewer and the blender. Does anyone have advice on which brands are best? I'm looking at the Bunn brewer (airpot) and the Vita Mix blender. I've seen other brands of blenders for less, but I'm worried they won't be durable enough.

Well, I've rambled on here....just excited to be in touch with other coffee folks,( I think my friends and family have heard enough about coffee for a while)! :p
I checked with my attorney and if you don't employ more than 15 people you don't have to meet ADA requirements. That is a federal law. You might want to check on that.
Thats very interesting! However I may be stuck....we've already submitted the final plan to the county and I don't want to encourage any more delays. And we have to have the restroom; local codes require that you have an agreement with a nearby business (within 100-200 feet) to allow your employees to use their restroom. There aren't any businesses that close to us. I don't mind having to include the restrrom, but they have told us that we must have wider doors and special handles and toilet, etc. So I may be able to get around that part.

From what I've read, this law came into effect in '94 and most, if not all, the local espresso stands have been built since then and NONE of them comply. They all have 1-4 steps into the facility and only one has a restroom....I'm not sure how they get away with it, but I'd sure like to know.

I also find it very strange that they don't require the entire work environment to be in compliance with the ADA...they've made NO hint that counter tops or equipment must be accessible( we have to have "wheel chair turn around radius" in the restroom, but not in the actual work area). I'm n ow sure that it never made sense to me because they gave us incorrect info!!! :shock:
Hey Janie 1963 where in Washington are you located? And what county? It's unfortunate, but most counties are now requiring that you have wheelchair accessibility including ramp. Why? Who knows. As for ADA that only applies for the larger sized drive thru bldgs. Believe it or not, I've actually seen a drive thru that used honey pots as restrooms as long as they had fresh water inside the stand. Have you selected your coffee yet? If so, you may want to ask your coffee company if they are knowledgable about these things. Chances are if they work in the industry (one of the smaller companies) then they may be of help. I know we've assisted a number of our customers get established. Everywhere from Washington to New York.

Good luck :p
I'm in Grays Harbor. Yes, there is a very popular stand in town that uses a porta potty. Theres another one where the employee will put up a sign that says "bathroom break, back soon"...the bathroom is inside a store and I'm sure its more than the 100 feet requirement and worse is how they drain the gray water from the sink....via a pipe that sticks out the wall and drains right onto the pavement. At least I know my operation will be sanitary!!

I have chosen Batdorf and Bronson as my coffee roaster and they've been very helpful and have stayed with me throughout all these months. Though they did recently raise their prices significantly and that has me a bit concerned.

maybe you can answer a question for me....I've been looking at blenders and wonder about the Vita Mix vs other (less expensive) brands. My inclination is to buy the Vita Mix knowing it will do the job, but still I can't help wondering if the others aren't just as durable. The only other equipment I've yet to buy is the brewer and refrigerator.

Thanks for the advice!