After working at Starbucks for a decade pouring drinks heavily laden with sugar, Ryan Thompson began to see a culture clash. He noticed people were starting to trend toward more healthful food choices but the coffee industry wasn’t keeping up.
So the 28-year-old, who expects to graduate this fall with a bachelor’s in marketing from Western Governors University, started Pines Coffee with former business partner JJ Goldsbury. The small drive-through or walk-up coffee hut at 1000 Grand Blvd., is 3 years old and, Thompson said, business is growing rapidly.
Pines is on track this month to break a record for sales.
“And it’s August,” he said. “That’s like the worst month” for the coffee business.
Thompson credits the coffee kiosk’s success to a commitment to using whole ingredients and unique products, from the pumpkin habanero latte to house-made vegan milks such as coconut cashew and almond maple.
“We believe more in flavor,” Thompson said. “We embrace flavors because we do it right.”
Thompson started experimenting with recipes in 2006 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which causes inflammation in the brain and spine. Sugar and dairy can fuel the inflammation, so Thompson sought alternatives.
He brought that passion for healthier yet tasty alternatives to Pines Coffee, which now boasts nine coffee offerings, from lattes to mochas and nine recently released teas, as well as gluten-free baked goods and a commitment to transparency. The ingredients in the house-made milks are on the front page of Pines Coffee’s website. Almond maple milk, for example, includes: water, raw almonds, Grade A maple syrup and Himalayan salt.
Thompson said Pines Coffee decided to use Happy Cup coffee roaster out of Portland because the companies have a similar mission to help the community.
“We’re all about trying to improve our community,” Adam Bray, operations director for Happy Cup, said.
The goal of Happy Cup is to hire people with developmental disabilities to work in production, packaging and marketing, Bray said. The 5-year-old Portland coffee roaster has its own shop in Portland City Hall and distributes coffee to several local coffee shops and stores.
Bray said he likes working with Thompson and Pines Coffee because of the company’s unique products.
“He’s just always trying different things with our coffees and I really appreciate that,” Bray said of Thompson. “His heart is in that business.”
Though Pines Coffee initially had plans to expand, Thompson said that for now it is too big of a bite for a company that employs only three people, including himself. Thompson said co-founder Goldsbury is no longer part of Pines Coffee as of about a month ago.
But Pines Coffee has no plans of slowing down.
Thompson said the mission to provide quality products, transparency of ingredients and being a positive impact on the community will continue as will the goal to be unique and try new things.
“Whenever someone says it can’t be done, we do it anyway,” Thompson said, adding after three years growth is “explosive. No one said that could be done after three years. It’s like no, that CAN be done.”