Dutch Bros. isn’t about coffee. Well, it is, but it’s so much more than that. The company was founded on the principles of kindness, philanthropy and community, and 26 years later that hasn’t changed a bit.
With a Dutch Bros. location in Windsor (and one soon to come in Greeley!), more and more locals are discovering the story and way of life behind Dutch Bros.
“We definitely live in and believe in the philosophy that the more you give, the more you get,” said Nate Frary, owner and operator of Dutch Bros. in Loveland, Fort Collins and Windsor. “The real heart and soul of all of it is our customer service. Really being very intentional and personable in the 30 seconds to a minute that we see someone, building relationships.”
In 1992 brothers Dane and Travis Boersma purchased an espresso machine, began experimenting with coffee beans and then set up a pushcart on the railroad tracks near their home in Oregon, handing out samples. They quickly saw they were onto something, and Dutch Bros. was born.
Today, Dutch Bros. Coffee is the country’s largest privately held drive-through coffee company, with more than 290 locations in seven states. While the company has grown from a two-man operation to one with more than 7,500 employees, the backbone of the company is the same: giving back.
The company has several “giveback” days every year. Through those special days, Dutch Bros. donates more than $2 million per year to local communities and nonprofit organizations.
Two of the giveback days are Dutch Love Day in February, when $1 from every drink sold is donated to local food banks, and on National Coffee Day (September 29), when $1 from every drink sold is given to a local youth organization. So far locally, money has been donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Larimer County, and with the Windsor store now up and running, Frary said some funds will go to the Weld County organization, as well.
The biggest of the year’s giveback days is Drink one for Dane day. It’s dedicated to the memory of co-founder Dane Boersma, who died in 2009 after a four-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. On Drink one for Dane day, the entirety of proceeds from the day’s sales are given to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“Those days are just amazing,” Frary said. “We’ll get a lot of people who aren’t regulars, but they come for that day.”
Ethan Follon, stand manager in Loveland, said Drink one for Dane day is his favorite of the year, hands down. He said it’s because he knows it hits close to home for so many people.
“A lot more people than we realize have other people in their lives that have struggled with ALS,” he said. “The fact that Dutch Bros. has been able to give back such a large amount of money to one issue and has such a drastic impact on people, just in our community, it’s amazing.”
Dutch Bros employee Matt Thirkhill preparing drinks for customers. (Jordan Reyes)
Dutch Bros’ connection to its community is clear, and this attracts lifelong customers who build strong relationships with the brand and the employees.
It’s exactly how Becca Padilla, who now manages the Windsor location, got introduced. After her parents dropped her off at college in Washington, they drove through the nearby Dutch Bros. When the barista asked what they were up to, Padilla’s mom broke down crying about leaving her daughter at college.
Next thing she knew, the Dutch Bros. worker came outside, hugged Padilla’s mother tightly and said she was going to give Padilla her phone number in case she ever needed anything, promising to take good care of her. A connection to Dutch Bros. – and a great friendship – was born.
“Coffee is just our means,” Padilla said. “It’s about the customer experience. It’s not about the glamour or the speed or latte art. It’s about building relationships outside the window.”
Padilla talked about something called the “usuals notebooks” that all the Dutch Bros. employees have. Frary encourages everyone to write in them at least three times a shift, jotting down a person’s name, favorite drink and something memorable about them. This helps that person “stick” in a barista’s mind for the next time they return.
Being remembered definitely speaks to customers. Combined with knowing that the folks behind the counter are really listening to their customers, it’s easy to understand why people keep coming back.
“You don’t have to have anything magical or life-changing to say at the window,” Padilla said. “You just have to be prepared to listen. Whether it’s an elderly person who lives alone, a stay-at-home parent with no other adults around or anyone else, someone is always dying to tell somebody something. And if you give them a listening ear for a minute or two, they’ll tell you it all.
“You get glimpses into people’s lives, and we’re really fortunate when people want to come back to us.”