And so another #coffeeneuring challenge ends, once again, not with a bang, but a whimper.
I didn’t intend for my final ride of the 2021 Coffeeneuring Challenge to be such a shrug, but that’s just how it happened. I had ambitions for a more substantial ride on Thanksgiving Eve. No, I never got around to fixing that flat on the Superbe, so not all the bikes were ridden, oh well. So I pulled out the Bantam yet again and aimed to ride towards St. Johns, our far-flung northern neighborhood.
Just a mile in I realized that something was up with the Bantam: In the higher gears it would constantly ghost-shift back and forth. I’m guessing that it may need a new chain and/or rear cassette, something that was not going to be fixed at 2 PM on the day before a major holiday. 1
So I decided to just shorten my ride and aim for a closer coffee destination. That became a problem. Y’see, Portland not only has a problem with a lack of later-night coffee shops, it also has one with later afternoon coffee shops. Many good ones close by 2 PM, and more close at 3. And finding one that closes between 4 and 6 PM, which I’d consider “reasonable”? Slim pickings. This was an issue before COVID, pandemic just exacerbated this. As it was already after 2, I had to hustle. I aimed for one that is something of a “Portland institution”, sort of.
Coffee People was one of those “Portland institutions” from back in the day, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who moved here after 2004 or so to have any familiarity with it. As it was, when I got here in 2001 it was fading fast. No one I knew really went there anymore as new and better coffee shops were entering the picture, like Stumptown. But for much of the 80’s and 90’s, it was the place for coffee in the Rose City. The local chain had grown to about 40 locations by 1996 when they decided to “get big”: Seeing how Seattle-based Starbucks was taking over the world, they wanted a piece of that, hoping that maybe a distant second-place would be their future. That was not to be. They went public and expanded, but neither worked out, so the company was sold. By 2001 it was already sold once again, this time to California-based Diedrich. They still retained the “Coffee People” branding but it was a shell of its former self. Within a few years Diedrich sold most of the remaining locations to Starbucks, only retaining a few in the airport. Now those are gone.
The “Version One” of Coffee People is now a distant memory, the only reminders are old travel mugs that can be found in the back of people’s cupboards or at Goodwill. But Coffee People does live on in another form. The “coffee people” of Coffee People, Jim and Patty Roberts, decided to go back into the coffee-shop biz when their “non-compete” clause ran out in 2002, right around the time when Coffee People V 1.0 was pretty much dead. They simply called their shop “Jim and Patty’s”. But they used the old Coffee People logo, which happened to be a circa 1983 drawing of them. (They also re-used the old Coffee People catchphrase “Good Coffee, No Backtalk”, which had been appropriated and tweaked by some other shops in the aughts.) And an interesting twist: In 2016, whoever owned the name “Coffee People” gave it back to Jim and Patty for them to use for cafes. 2 That’s cool, but not that useful outside of the nostalgia for folks who lived here in the “before times”. Jim and Patty’s/Coffee People is now back where it started, a small local chain of four shops scattered around the Portland Metro area.
The original location (of Jim and Patty’s, NOT Coffee People) is on NE Fremont, a reasonable destination, even with my skippy-chain bicycle. Despite being relatively close, I’ve only gone there a handful of times over the years. It’s just not that exciting of a coffee shop. As it was, the original Coffee People was NEVER a great coffee shop. 3 It was better than Dunkin’ Donuts, but it wasn’t the type of coffee that put Portland on the coffee map, like Third-Wave roasters like Stumptown would. 4 But I wanted to give them another shot, because things can change, right?
Well, after this trip I doubt I’d be back anytime soon. Firstly, the barista making drinks was SHOUTING OUT the finished orders VERY LOUDLY. Now I get it to some extent: coffee shops can be noisy so they need to cut through the din. But there’s got to be a middle ground between meekly calling out “Macchiato for Dave” and not being heard and being able to be heard twenty feet OUTSIDE the closed front door, which is the first thing I noticed when locking up my bike. Inside it was much worse, the baristas voice reverberated through the shop about every minute. At first I thought maybe I was being a bit too sensitive, but the person ahead of me in line asked someone else: “Is it always like this?”
No worries, I’d just drink my salted caramel latte outside, as there were a couple tables, and I was dressed for the 45F/7C day. And even though the cafe was closing at 3PM, I figured that the outside people would be the last to be kicked out, so I’d have a little time to enjoy the coffee, right? Wrong. At 2:55 the other (not-loud) barista came out and told me that they’re moving the tables inside right now, even before the shop was closed. 5 Oh well. At least I was mostly done with the latte by then, as it was more sweet than strong.
And with that, my coffee adventure was over, along with my Coffeeneuring 2021 Challenge. It’s okay that it ended with a bum note, as my other rides were good. And there’s always Coffeeneuring 2022…
1 And for you “helpers” who may tell me to just switch to friction shifting: I ONLY DO FRICTION SHIFTING.
2 They still retained the trademark for bean coffee, though.
3 This is where the “old Portlanders” come out of the woodwork to eviscerate me!
4 If anything, the coffee was probably comparable to current big local chain Dutch Brothers. This drive-thru espresso company is quite successful these days: They just released an IPO that went pretty well. Expect them to start expanding soon.
5 I get it, it’s the day before a holiday and the employees want to go home. But I know one of the things they do when they lock the door is sweep. Wouldn’t it be easier to sweep without extra tables inside? Emee speculates that the employees are probably overworked and underpaid, and when that happens, customer service suffers.