Starbucks Spurs Apprehension

Newest franchise has Payson business owners questioning future

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As yet another big name company prepares to swoop into Payson, many local business owners are questioning if they will stay afloat. Others have no doubt they will.

Starbucks Coffee, the international caffeine/pastry corporation, could be available inside the Safeway supermarket at 401 E. Highway 260 as early as September.

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April Mitchell, co-owner of Bagels, Brew and More, hands coffee to one of her regular customers, Kelly Martin. Mitchell said that while her business barely breaks even, she is not worried about Starbucks coming to town.

The company's story is a textbook example of how to corner a market; In 1971, it opened a single location in Seattle's Pike Place Market. Now it boasts 6,294 worldwide locations that include Israel, Qatar and Australia. Just last month it made roughly $410 million.

The franchise habit

The Cookie and Coffee Café could be a tribute to the obstinacy of Mom and Pop shops.

It lies nestled between Quizno's Classic Subs and the Marble Slab Creamery ---- two fast-growing franchises ---- on Main Street and the Beeline Highway in Payson.

Its name, written in playful green letters on the outside of the building, holds the promise of enticing sweets and caffeine-rich liquids.

Just before the café's entrance, a little off to the right, is a sign and symbol of the changing face of Payson's business scene; "Break the franchise habit."

Owners Chris and Russ Bowen prepare fresh fare ranging from breakfast bagels and blackberry pastries to a variety of lunch items. Sometimes they work opposite shifts; at others, they are there together with their 2-year-old daughter, Samantha, and Chris's 14-year-old son, Taylor.

They and other local business owners are concerned with the impending arrival of Starbucks.

"There isn't any money being made," Chris said. "The piece of the pie is getting smaller. It seems the masses would rather go to the name brand rather than the Mom and Pop."

Dane Bird, manager of Quizno's, agreed with Chris and said the public does tend to frequent franchises.

"Nobody has ever heard of them (Cookie and Coffee Café). It's just one place," he said. "Chili's for example. Everybody has heard of them. Everybody knows about them and they would rather go somewhere they know about."

Chris said that while that may be true, customers get a superior experience at Mom and Pops.

"The customer service and the quality of food seem to always be better," she said. "Whenever I go anywhere out of town, or even in town, that's what I want: the Mom and Pop."

Laughing it off

In February of 1999, only eight months before the Bowens opened their café, April and Bobby Mitchell opened Bagels Brew and More. There, hundreds of brightly colored coffee, flavored syrup, and tea containers serve as eye candy and a display of muffins, bagels, and various sweets looks like something out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The shop is situated near Payson's busiest intersection ---- Highway 260 and the Beeline ---- and is a neighbor of Safeway and the future Starbucks.

"Starbucks? I'm not worried about it," April said with a chuckle. "People who like their coffee drinks aren't going to want to pay the money to go over there and have a Safeway employee run over from the deli to make coffee and not know what they're doing."

The chief cause for her confidence lies in the actual location of the future Starbucks.

"Its going to be inside a Safeway and it's going to be run by Safeway employees," she said. "They're not trained to do what a barista needs to do to make all the coffee drinks. (Customers) are not going to get what they want and they'll be paying $4 or $5 for it."

April agreed with Chris and Bird about the public's inclination to go to chain stores.

"They just don't want to put out effort to find them (Mom and Pops) and try something different," she said. "They get in habit of finding something that they know and they just don't think about the fact that they typically get better quality and better service when they go to some of the smaller, lesser known places."

Despite the fact that the Mitchells are just breaking even, April said she hasn't let franchises intimidate her throughout more than four years of running the business.

"I would assume I haven't lost money to any chains," she said. "People spend dollars at all different types of restaurants. They always have and they always will. (My customers will always want) the specialty coffee and breakfast I make."

From the beginning ...

Unlike the Bowens and the Mitchells, Ray and Melody Sexton and their family have owned their business ---- the Beeline Café ---- for more than 40 years.

Located on the southern tip of Payson, the restaurant is a throwback to the Mom and Pops of the good old days. Its current decor invokes memories of days gone by; richly-colored wood envelops the interior, counter tops and booths are a muted pink, and the waitresses are famous for their biting retorts after years of dealing with a demanding public.

In the undersized lobby, signs with wise guy phrases like "Complaints to the cook can be bad for your health" and copies of Roundup stories from the 50s and 60s cover the walls.

When Ray began running the restaurant, there were only two other competitors in town and traffic was nonexistent.

Now, cars roar by the café on the Beeline Highway and the number of restaurants in the Rim country has grown exponentially.

"We've seen thousands and thousands of people come and go," Ray said. "You know you're getting old when you know more people dead than alive."

As survivors of the many ownership shifts at one of their nearest competitors ---- the Knotty Pine Café ---- and the onslaught of chain restaurants like Denny's and McDonald's, the Sextons have yet to blink an eye at the thought of a Starbucks.

"We make good money," said Ray on a Saturday night as droves of customers bombarded him at the cash register. "We're popular. We have regular food, but they're big heaping plates and we keep our prices down low."

Uncertain future

All three of the aforementioned Mom and Pop shops said they are in no immediate danger of shutting down. They did all express hopes that Paysonites won't be too wooed by the Italian eatery charm of Starbucks.

Chris of the Cookie and Coffee Café said they likely will. She recalled one morning when a man stuck his head in her store, took a good look around and said:

"Nice shop. Is there a Starbucks in town?"

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