After the announcement in late January that Starbucks was closing over 100 of their shops around North America due to competition and general economic factors–some people probably secretly cheered that a shop you see on every street corner in existence might finally give someone else a chance. Well, we have that other side of us that says we don’t want Starbucks to shrink or go away because it’s an American institution. And they won’t be diminished any time soon. Even with an average of 100 shops closing–we’re still going to see Starbucks on plenty of street corners next to every McDonald’s and Borders. Ditto over in Europe where Starbucks is focusing on opening more stores. But a lot of independent coffee shops are opening up in-between those street corners here in America. In California–one particular coffee shop is (perhaps arguably) making unusual strides more than any other Starbucks competitor to the point of maybe filling the Starbucks shoes…uh, or cups.
The Newhall Coffee Roasting Company opened in the Santa Clarita County community of Newhall, California in 1994 with a mission to create a different kind of coffee brew. It was founded by two brothers (Mitch and Kyle McMullen) who had the unique idea of roasting their own coffee beans to create a unique flavor to their coffee to differentiate themselves from Starbucks and other coffeemakers that kept a fairly uniform blend and didn’t roast the coffee beans in the store. The secret to the roasting in-store would be to have it served within hours (or by the next day) from the roaster so the customer would get the freshest taste of gourmet coffee. It was something so simple–yet one that’s more than appreciated by those who find freshly-roasted coffee to be a true godsend in the morning.
Maybe part of the Brothers McMullen name sounds familiar. Mitch McMullen played for the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA in the early 90’s. Later, he moved to France briefly where he had a chance to enjoy the gourmet coffee you can experience there that’s like no other coffee in the world. When he moved back to California–he and his brother, Kyle (who worked behind-the-scenes doing marketing for the film industry in CA) opened a little coffeehouse in Valencia, CA under a different name. Once they decided to experiment with roasting their own coffee–the demand went way up for their coffee. Strange that nobody else had ever figured out that freshly-roasted coffee would be the ultimate finding of the Holy Cup for those obsessed with coffee. The reason the others didn’t is because it’s a bit more expensive–and, of course, more work.
The McMullens at least had a chance to enjoy the concept of making major profit when you put in a little more effort into your business. Once the Newhall Coffee Roasting Company officially opened in ’94, they were already well-known in the local area. According to their website–secret investigations (via spies) at their competitors would take place to keep one step ahead. One of those investigated was Starbucks who did things a little differently in their coffee preparation. While never proven, it seems likely Starbucks locations in Santa Clarita County conversely sent out some spies to see what that ambitious little coffee shop up the way was doing…and why so many people were crowding in there.
The benefits of creating unique coffee near Los Angeles…
Another brilliant marketing strategy by the McMullen Brothers was selling their micro-roasted coffee beans as a packaged, stand-alone product that could be sold to restaurants and services that serve coffee. Just about every major company in the area started to purchase their coffee beans. And because this was near Los Angeles–word of mouth about something amazing travels fast. That’s when they started getting calls from Dreamworks, other major studios, networks and media institutions nearby in the neighborhood. This proved that people were willing to pay for something high-quality if it was available. But this WAS California and the corporate world who were more apt to spring a few extra dollars out of their wallet for a special kind of coffee you couldn’t find anywhere else in the state. Fortunately, Newhall Coffee kept the price of individual cups of coffee equal with Starbucks for the more common customer.
It wasn’t long when Newhall was the favorite coffee of the greater Los Angeles area–and the brothers were starting to get interviewed in the press about their emerging coffee powerhouse. It seemed, though, that they were going to stay only in California where their strongest markets were. It’s no doubt, though, that Starbucks felt the pinch from Newhall in the Los Angeles area within the last five years. Back then, you’d always see paparazzi pictures of celebrities going into a Starbucks shop. In the last year or so, take a look at those coffee cups celebs are holding or the coffee shop they’re going into. Most likely you’ll see the “Newhall Coffee Roasting Company” title on the cup or shop window.
Yes, that means it may be a shock to the system to see Newhall’s logo of a bag of coffee beans rather than that mermaid caricature (or whoever that girl is) Starbucks has used for years. Newhall’s logo shows people what they’re truly getting and what their company is all about.
Excessive growth and an inevitable national chain…
The Newhall Company’s website states that they’ve had 400% growth just in the last year, which can’t be taken as anything other than phenomenal growth for a still-local business. Now the Brothers McMullen are starting to get interviews in national publications and on TV with the thought they’re going to be the only coffeemakers within the wide batch of Starbucks competitors who will eventually have a chance to be equal or exceed the Seattle-based java behemoth.
But will they? Considering the company picks the top 1% quality coffee beans in the world before they brew their coffee–buying just one cup of coffee there would still be as expensive as Starbucks is to the average consumer. If ever in a national setting, Newhall might get clobbered by the economy as Starbucks has recently. Being near the Los Angeles area where millionaires reside–they’ve captured a niche market and have a monopoly there.
The old marketing idea of “provide the quality and they will pay” may hold true if Newhall goes national. If you had to ask most people who buy coffee regularly–they’d probably feel some sense of relief that Starbucks could potentially have a national competitor for once rather than dominating alone for several generations. It gives validation that the masses won’t allow monopolies to take over in America for decades.
Meanwhile, I still suspect unobtrusive spies are visiting Starbucks from Newhall…and vice versa to see what each one is up to. Twenty years ago, we probably wouldn’t have ever thought that buying a cup of coffee would turn into a major competitive corporate event during the 21st century. It’s actually all the more remarkable that an American company named after a small town in California would go to great pains to provide true quality to their product.
May they make a lot of bucks…and not just from Hollywood stars…