Remember when Starbucks became known as being the third place for people to congregate, beyond home and work. 7 Brew, a coffee bar, has been finding increasing success with a different kind of business model: drive-thru only.
No third place for 7 Brew. It’s fast, quick and convenient where the customer drives in, picks up their order from the window and leaves, almost as fast as you can say “coffee with milk and sugar to go, thank you very much.” It currently has 150 stands (its terminology) or locations, situated in 24 states, and every single outlet is drive-thru only, without any kind of indoor seating. Of that number, most are franchised with only 17 company-owned.
According to Franchise Times, co-founder Ron Crume launched 7 Brews in 2017 in Rogers, Ark., a town of about 70,000 people located in the Ozarks. A group of entrepreneurs Brew Culture, acquired it and grew to nine units. Seeing an opportunity, Drink House Holdings, the company started by Jimmy John Liautaud, the founder of Jimmy John’s sandwich and Jamie Coulter, the Lone Star Steak House founder, acquired it.
Capitalizing on the trend of customers wanting to be served as quickly as possible, 7 Brew is expanding its locations via franchising and is growing at a steady pace.
Quick and Fast
Why are drive-thru coffee stands finding so much success? 7 Brew prides itself on “serving guests very quickly. The convenience and speed helps drive business and keep loyal guests coming back,” says Nicole Miller Regan, CFO at 7 Brew.
“Our drive-thru only model has proven to be super-efficient,” she adds. Its culture, Regan suggests, emphasizes being “fast and accurate.” Some locations do have outdoor benches for guests to use, she notes.
And the New York Times underscored the trend when it cited in a November 8, 2023 Kim Severson article that drive-through traffic now accounts for two-thirds of all fast-food purchases.
More Hospitable Than One Might Expect
And it’s much more hospitable than one might expect. When the customers arrive in their cars, they are greeted by a “texter” who comes with an iPad to take the order, but as importantly, greets the customer and asks how their day is going. That connection is key to forming a relationship with 7 Brew.
It has two major rush times: mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and afternoons between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. It opens at 5:30 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m.
A Streamlined Menu
Its menu is streamlined. Besides coffee, it sells energy drinks, teas, sparking infused waters, shakes and smoothies.
But its coffee menu is extensive. It says it can sell a host of variations of coffee including hot, cold, sugar-free, with syrup or oat milk, or cold brew served from 100% Peruvian coffee.
Regan describes Drink House as a “group of entrepreneurs” and says it operates like a family financial office and like a private equity company as well. Their goal is, “to get as many stands open as possible” to capitalize on the drive-thru trend, she says.
Drink House Holding is rather low-keyed. In fact, its website has no description, no mission statement, no listing of companies owned, and no pages beyond its tagline of “an executive and entrepreneur led partnership focused exclusively on the consumer sector.”
Most of 7 Brews’ locations are suburban as well as rural, and located mostly in Ark., Mo., Fl, and Tx. It won’t work well in large metropolises where drive-thru’s wouldn’t fit in.
Regan describes its target audience as extremely varied but including “the early night shift nurse who loves classic black coffee and the college student looking for a study time pick-me-up from an energy drink or flavorful coffee.”
Because most stands are 500 square feet and modular-built, they are easy and quick to assemble, making it cost-effective for franchisees to duplicate.
The Ideal Franchisee
Regan describes its ideal franchisee as someone who “understands real estate, operational excellence and having the financial wherewithal.” All of its franchisees are multiple operators so they become familiarized with its culture, absorb it, and go through its training.
Customer reaction on Yelp to its Fayetteville, Ark. location, where it is headquartered, was mostly favorable. James from Fayetteville noted that every time he had visited his drinks were made correctly and he loves to talk and laugh with the servers.
Annissa liked the variety of coffee flavors including Chocolate Mac and Pumpkin Blondi, and Anna found the employees “happy to help, happy to serve and most importantly happy to be there.”
But John didn’t like the idea that someone came out to greet him; he would have preferred that he was served even faster, without human contact.
Growth is on a steady pace. It has more than 150 locations today and expects that pace to continue in 2024, when it will likely exceed 200 stands.
Regan attributed the three keys to its future success as: 1) Continued consumer appetite for speedy, quality service, 2) Sustained execution regarding hiring and training team members, 3) Creating positive franchisee partnerships so that “their success is our success.”