Dutch Bros. Coffee figured out a way to teach love by brewing a hot cup of joe.
It’s easy for companies to say that people are the heart of the brand, but few live this statement the way Dutch Bros Coffee does. In the first five minutes of our conversation with Brant Boersma, the Chief Culture Officer of the Northwest coffee company, he was already discussing how happy he was for an employee leaving for new opportunities. How does that work?
“One of our regional coaches is in the process of stepping down. He’s been doing it forever, alongside pursuing his passion for basketball,” he shared. “He started Clutch Time Hoops, a year-round basketball program for kids that has gotten to a point where it’s requiring his attention full-time. It’s super cool to celebrate that with him. We want people to serve and have a big impact on the community.”
This is definitely not the usual approach when an employee leaves a company, in any industry. But that’s one of the million things that sets Dutch Bros Coffee apart in a flooded coffee market.
The organization was founded in 1992 by Dane and Travis Boersma, brothers who had to sell the family dairy business and turned instead to roasting coffee in their barns. Today, the organization is the country’s largest privately held drive-thru coffee company.
And yes, the company’s coffee is good—really good. While connecting to people both inside the organization and out is the first goal of the company, quality is incredibly important.
“Each of the different beans in our proprietary three-bean blend from Brazil, El Salvador, and Colombia gets roasted individually then combined after the roasting process. It creates a unique flavor profile. I don’t find the joy in roasting, some of our employees do, but it’s an artform.”
Dutch Bros Coffee owns and operates the country’s largest privately held roasting facility, referred to lovingly by Boersma as “Willy Wonka’s factory.”
Boersma is founder Dane’s son, and was 11 when Dane started the business. His experiences as a child left an indelible mark on him and are the reasons why he’s remained with the brand into adulthood.
“This business has been about people since I was a kid. I got to see the way my dad and uncle treated people—they treated humans like humans. It was really cool.”
Drink One for Dane
When Boersma’s father Dane was diagnosed with ALS, his family, friends, and the company didn’t know much about the disease.
“There’s no known cause, there’s no known cure. We want to help change that,” Boersma said.
His father has since passed away, but Dane’s forever young mindset and energy lives on through both Dutch Bros Coffee and “Drink One for Dane”, an annual fundraiser where the company donates all of the proceeds from that day to ALS research. This year’s event raised more than $1.3 million.
“It’s a big day. It’s an emotional day. And it’s really close to our hearts. It’s one of our biggest unifying events. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, but it’s so important to us. A lot of people didn’t get to know my dad. He was the coolest dude ever. And I feel like anytime you go through one of our stands, you get an idea about what kind of man he was.”
Boersma’s goal for employees is to create opportunities for great experiences between workers and guests, develop relationships, and provide guidance for careers and goals both within and outside of Dutch Bros Coffee.
“This is often a kid’s first job. We help them develop social skills, communication, things like counting back money. The hours are workable, so they can go to school and pursue their passions. We see it as a launching point.”
It’s important to Boersma to help all employees in the organization set goals. Just as with the regional coach who is pursuing his passion, Boersma and Dutch Bros Coffee is nothing but supportive.
“We haven’t always had such an emphasis on goal setting. But as time has gone by, it’s becoming so cool and rewarding to see young people develop into who they want to be. That we may even have a small hand in that is awesome.
“At the core of it all, we basically just teach people to love people. When you can teach that, it’s a joy to watch them develop and grow. Mentorship like this is incredibly rewarding.”
The Evolution of COACHA
Although this may be an unexpected company culture for a coffee company, it’s less surprising to find out Dutch Bros hosts a training and inspirational extravaganza with the likes of 21 Pilots and Macklemore performing for employees.
COACHA initially started out with Boersma and other leaders driving around to all of the companies’ locations to check in and spend quality time with employees throughout the workday and at fun dinners after. But two years in, it wasn’t sustainable.
“We wanted to do something similar to a retreat for our people,” he said. “COACHA started shortly after that—four small events with 50 people each.”
The event covers everything: the company’s history, the roasting process, and future goals. But it’s also a massive celebration of what Dutch Bros Coffee does every day.
“They serve the communities, they act like little rays of sunshine in customers’ day. We want to thank our staff for that.”
Now, each event hosts over 2,000 people, and it’s growing.
“When you come back from COACHA, you have a little fire in your belly. It’s the best kind of buzz,” he shared.
We learned firsthand about this love into which Dutch Bros Coffee invests so much time and coffee. Boersma spoke about working in the stands before he had his first daughter, and just how important his relationships with the brand’s customers had become.
“Before we had our first kid, our customers were giving us first time parenting advice. Afterwards they were coming with blankets and handmade gifts for my girl. That really shows how coffee is a communal activity, how you can develop meaningful relationships with people, even through the window at a coffee stand. This doesn’t feel like a job most days—each regular who comes up to the window makes it feel like it’s a break in the day with a friend.”
Ready to Serve
Dutch Bros Coffee has taken off and grown rapidly in the last few years. The growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
“We’re definitely growing in all of the states we currently have locations. We’re purposely growing in a spiral so we don’t overextend. It’s been a very, very cool journey, especially as we’ve growth further south and east. We’re excited for the future.”
We’ve never really seen anything quite like this company. Boersma knows, because neither has he.
“It’s hard to not be attracted to this model,” he said. “It’s authentic. We get to see our friends and build relationships every day. We get to spread love through a cup of coffee.”
Dutch Bros Coffee was founded in 1992 by Dane and Travis Boersma. The bros bought a double-head espresso machine, threw open the barn doors and started experimenting with just 100 pounds of beans and a rockin’ stereo. They set up a pushcart on the railroad tracks and started passing out samples to anyone who would brave the new brew, and, within a month, they knew they had something special.