Peet’s Coffee & Tea, long sold on the shelves of Whole Foods, Safeway and other area grocery stores, plans to open its first Washington cafe Monday.
Twenty-two more stores, many of them at former Caribou Coffee locations, will follow in the next few months, as the California brand aims to carve out a stronghold in the Washington area.
“D.C. is the major leagues of coffee-drinking,” said Dave Burwick, president and chief executive of Peet’s Coffee & Tea. “There is a lot of pent-up interest and demand for our products.”
First up: A flagship store at 1701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW that will serve as the brand’s Washington prototype.
The company has spent months demolishing — and building up again — the 1,380-square-foot store, which used to house Caribou Coffee. Walls were torn down, floors were stripped and all of the lighting was replaced.
“There’s really very little overlap” between Peet’s and Caribou, Burwick said. “The decor, furniture, the equipment — all of that is different.”
The goal, Peet’s executives say, is to create a familiar and intuitive space. Unsaid is the fact the coffee purveyor must differentiate itself from national chains that are already well established in the region, such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.
“We want to make sure the story of Peet’s shows through,” said Debora Kristofferson, vice president of brand and creative strategy. “We’re new to D.C., but we’re not a new company.”
Peet’s was founded in 1966 in Berkeley, Calif. Among its early customers were the founders of Starbucks, who stocked their first stores with hand-roasted coffee beans from Peet’s.
Today, the company has 233 stores around the country, with plans to add at least 60 more in 2014. Annual revenue is upwards of $500 million.
Much of the company’s recent growth has been in expanding its grocery store presence — more than 12,000 stores now carry Peet’s packaged coffees — but it is shifting its focus to standalone cafes, Burwick said.
“Grocery [sales] are always going to be critical for us, but you don’t fall in love with Peet’s because you buy it at Safeway,” he said.
Peet’s, a publicly-traded company from 2001 to 2011, was purchased by Germany-based Joh. A. Benckiser in 2012. The conglomerate also acquired Caribou Coffee that same year and announced that it would re-brand a number of the company’s stores as Peet’s.
In the Washington area, Caribou Coffee locations began shuttering earlier this year. Nearly all of them will reopen as Peet’s.
“We got access to some great real estate,” Burwick said. “And we’ve realized that location is important: You can have the best coffee, but if you’re not on the right side of the road on the way to work in the morning, you’re just not going to make it.”
In addition to the 23 Peet’s stores currently in the works, executives say they’re eyeing additional locations in the Washington area.
“We’d love to be in Georgetown, but it’s hard to find a great space there,” said Michael Williams, vice president of store development. “We want each location to have its own personality.”
At the Pennsylvania Avenue store, for example, there are framed photographs of U.S. presidents sipping coffee, a nod to the White House across the street. There is also a custom-made wood map of Washington, along with framed collages of Instagram photos submitted by local residents.
“It’s exciting to come to a market where people already know the brand,” Kristofferson said. “But then the challenge becomes, how do we build on that?”
To drum up more attention, Peet’s “barista trucks” have been making the rounds in the area, stopping at the likes of George Mason University and Farragut Square to give out free coffee.
In addition, the company has signed on as the official coffee provider for the Washington Nationals. Peet’s stores will sell baked goods from Sterling-based Baguette Republic and Hawthorne Fine Breakfast Pastry in Severna Park.
“There is a real appetite for coffee — and for learning about coffee — here in Washington,” Williams said. “This is a very important part of the world for us to be in.”