Indie coffee shops like Coffeeberry keep perking away.
by Lesley Michaels
photography by Courtney Droke
In a town where there are three Starbucks (with a fourth on its way) within a four-mile radius, residents of La Verne cannot help but notice the demise of the independent coffee house. What’s the draw for an international brand: advertising, familiarity or sugary drinks? One would imagine there are plenty of reasons that would detract interest from Starbucks: high-priced specialty drinks, costly internet access and less-than-personal customer service.
OK, Starbucks does have a few tasty drinks. But so do many of the dwindling independent coffee houses, like La Verne’s own Coffeeberry, which offers the same taste as a corporate chain, but without the guilt.
One distinctive characteristic of Coffeeberry is that the coffee is roasted weekly in the store, as opposed to being shipped in, as is done by the larger chains. Coffeeberry holds the distinction above other local coffee shops in that it sells “boba,” or “bubble” tea, a delicious alternative to hot coffee. Blending your choice of fruity flavors into a smoothie-like consistency, tapioca balls are added to the cool drink to be sucked up through large straws. Green tea boba is also offered, for those who need an extra energy kick, sans caffeine.
While receiving your boba tea, house blend coffee, Swiss soymilk mocha or your latte, you can’t help but notice the customer service the friendly staff offers. It is immediately evident upon entering the store that the employees are satisfied and enjoy serving customers. Besides, who wouldn’t enjoy the work day if they got the chance to play their own iPod playlist throughout the store during their shift? The staff is friendly, knowledgeable about independent alternative rock music, and often engages in small talk with loyal customers who linger around on the barstools. After a few visits, the attentive staff will most likely recognize your favorite drink or choice of pastas, sandwiches, pastries and ice creams. A spacious outdoor patio allows regulars to come chat.
Coffeeberry is also a sought-after venue among students and faculty of the University of La Verne. With the exception of the regulars from around town, the majority of the coffee shop’s revenue is generated within the school week. Many students find sanctuary at the coffee house for studying alone or orchestrating meetings for group projects.
Dion Johnson, art department manager at the University of La Verne, has been a regular customer at Coffeeberry for many years. While there is a Starbucks in close proximity to ULV on Foothill and D Street, Johnson remains loyal to Coffeeberry.
“I believe in supporting local and thinking global. Driving to a corporate establishment is wasteful (fuel) and the experience lacks a sense of character,” Johnson said. If Coffeeberry ever were to close, Johnson is so adamant about supporting local establishments that he would rather use a coffee maker in his office than surrender to the corporate coffee chains.
Understanding that Coffeberry’s fans are loyal for a reason—be it the delicious drinks, the great service or the cozy atmosphere—they do all they can to create customer satisfaction. For instance, every customer can pick up a frequent drink card, where stamps are received every time a drink is purchased, working their way up to a free drink. Also, a senior discount is offered on all food and drinks. In addition, Coffeeberry is part of the University of La Verne Rideshare Scrip program, which rewards faculty and staff of the college for carpooling to work. Weekly points that are achieved may be used toward purchases at the coffee shop. The only way the food selection and service could improve, according to Johnson, is if they would start serving crepes. We’ll just have to see.
As for the Starbucks domination in the coffee world, Coffeeberry night manager Nick Tondee explains that there is no threat of Coffeeberry going under. Although staff members do find it discouraging when customers accidentally assign Starbucks cup sizes to their order (“tall” instead of small, “grande” instead of medium, etc.). But the independent coffee shop believes that customer satisfaction and distinct in-store coffee roasting cannot be replaced by the familiar green Starbucks logo.
“Maybe to compete, we’ll write Coffeeberry on our generic Styrofoam cups. Then we can match the advertising advantage Starbucks has,” jokes Tondee.
The only change Coffeeberry may possibly face is for the better: an effort to go greener. Though a hard ambition for a small business, Coffeeberry has always implemented energy-efficient lightbulbs in the store. And although they still use styrofoam cups, they hope to change if it is economically feasible.
So if you’re in the mood for a little variance from your daily tall caramel macchiato, swing by Coffeeberry. Better yet, take a leisurely afternoon and sip a green tea boba in the afternoon sun on the patio, or hang out indoors on the couch and chat among the college students and faculty.
Coffeeberry is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and is closed on Sundays.