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December 4th, 2002 Anne Laufe | News Stories
 

Return of the Coffee People!

     
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PORTLAND'S ORIGINAL COFFEE PEOPLE: Jim and Patty Roberts are back in the bean biz.
IMAGE: basil childers
There's something familiar about this place, from the typography on the red-and-white sign outside to the peace symbols drawn on the peanut-butter cookies and the playful names of the coffee drinks--Girl Power, Boy Power, and Liquid Chocolate-Chip Cookie. There are even multiple kinds of espresso ("Crazy" has a higher caffeine content than "Good").

It's back to the grind for Jim and Patty Roberts, former king and queen of Coffee People, who have opened a new coffee shop at 5015 NE Fremont St.

The Robertses sold their caffeine kingdom in 1997, after nearly 20 years of stoking Portland's java junkies with Black Tiger Espresso and Jimbo's Hippie Cookies. They made their coffee strong and kept their business mantra simple: "Good coffee. No backtalk."

At the top of their game, they were minority owners of 40 Coffee People stores and Motor Mokas in the Portland area. In their quest to become No. 2 to Starbucks, the Robertses went public with their company in 1996 (after a local offering in 1995), then expanded to Denver, Chicago and southern California. According to Jim, the empire collapsed when "business just didn't ramp up fast enough."

Jim and Patty sold Coffee People to Gloria Jean's, a subsidiary of the Canadian-based Second Cup. It also had trouble keeping Coffee People in the black and sold the chain to Diedrich Coffee Inc. in 1998, making Diedrich the second-largest coffee company in the country.

After the sale, the Robertses hightailed it to Texas so Jim could enter a seminary. He found himself more interested in barbecue than the Bible, however, and returned to Portland to open All Y'All's, a BBQ joint in Northeast Portland that burned out within a year.

Jim Roberts says the failed eatery landed them so deep in debt that they sold their house in Northeast Portland and rented an apartment in Tigard.

The one bright spot in their odyssey came when the five-year non-compete agreement signed in 1997 expired and they found a sweet spot in Beaumont Village. They're starting all over again with Jim and Patty's Coffee, featuring good coffee, no backtalk...and killer sour-cream coffeecake.

 
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