Dutch Love

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Photo by Ezra Marcos

written by Megan Oliver | photos by Ezra Marcos


Travis Boersma spends a lot of time mulling the idea of culture. He talks about culture in meetings at Dutch Bros.’ company headquarters in Grants Pass, implements a consistent culture across more than 200 venues in seven states and once went so far as to participate in the television show Undercover Boss to investigate the practices of coffee bean growers his company contracts with in South America.

Jovial and blunt with the cadences of a surfer who just got the best wave of his life, Boersma, 43, appears to have been thrown into the role of CEO but shaped it to fit his life. After his brother and business partner, Dane, died in 2009 from the neuro-degenerative disease known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS, Boersma took a hard look at the family business to assess the culture of the country’s largest privately held drive-thru coffee chain.

“Dane’s passing reminded us of what matters. The business has never been driven by money,” said Boersma. “When we grow, it’s always because its right, not forced. We set goals and model our direction on concepts we respect, like Tony Robbins’ goal-setting workshops and Les Schwab’s company culture.”

The Boersma brothers grew up on a multigenerational dairy farm in Grants Pass, but by 1992, the business wasn’t penciling out. During a weekend trip to Portland, Boersma, then 21 years old, was mesmerized by the rainbow of syrups on display at an espresso cart he visited outside Nordstrom.

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Touting the relatively unknown specialty coffee beverage business to his brother, Boersma launched into a franchising pitch—a common tête-à-tête between the brothers as they planned for the future. Dane, who was seventeen years his senior and a family man with three kids, ordered an espresso from a local coffee shop and told Boersma he was crazy for thinking people would drink the bitter beverage. Then Dane drank his first vanilla latte and he changed his tune.

The brothers launched their flagship ristretto espresso cart in Grants Pass, complete with the now-signature double-shot base and free syrups. Ristretto-pulling is a classic Italian process that yields the same amount of coffee from half the water of other systems. Even in today’s coffee- saturated markets, the style is still uncommon in the United States.

The franchising system is the lynchpin to Dutch Bros. success. Potential franchisees must work for the company for at least three years. “We award franchises to people who demonstrate our values and have developed the skills to put the customer at the forefront,” said Boersma. All franchise owners started out as “bro-istas”—the upbeat Dutch Bros. version of a barista, whipping up Caramelizers and Cocomos to the beats of pumping music.

“We really appreciate music,” said Boersma. “If we make coffee without music, something is missing. Music is an ingredient.” This is the energy behind the chain’s recognizable blue-and-white windmill coffee huts.

Bro-istas all wear apparel designed with and shipped from the company’s 4,000-square-foot clothing warehouse at headquarters in Grants Pass. “We wanted to have a look, without requiring a uniform,” said marketing director Dan Buck. The retail arm is also a growing aspect of the business for customers. That branding acumen extends to Oregon State University and University of Oregon athletics, where Dutch Bros. is the exclusive coffee provider.

At the heart of Dutch Bros. family-like culture is social capital. Each franchise gives at least 1 percent of gross revenue to community causes of their choice. In honor of Dane, all proceeds from one day of sales each year goes to ALS research and family support. All told, the company donates more than $1 million annually. “I’m fortunate to have a thriving business rooted in my home town, with multiple generations of Boersmas involved,” said Boersma. “We want to return the support that people have given us. There is so much value in giving back, in paying it forward.”

17 Comments

  • great article. The Dutch Bros culture and customer service is bar none the best I've seen. These folks are doing a lot right! Congrats, and keep up the great work, coffee and atmosphere you have begun.

  • great article. The Dutch Bros culture and customer service is bar none the best I've seen. These folks are doing a lot right! Congrats, and keep up the great work, coffee and atmosphere you have begun.

  • I love that DB used Les Schwab principles in developing their business model. Les Schwab has that same "service first" mentality… "Pride in Performance" is a great book about their company.

  • I'm from GP and remember when you guys were in the parking lot of Grocery Outlet. Since then I have moved to Centralia WA which now has a Dutch Bros Location (after I moved) and am now in Redlands CA. I'm glad I can at least order K Cups now! You guys would do very well here in Redlands! We have two GP families here!

  • My sons first job & he absolutely loves it! ! He definitely wants to be a franchise owner! Keep up the the great job Dutch Bros. We love you!

  • I have known this man for over 30 years and he has more love and passion than any other person I have known. Money doesn't matter to him. It's all about love.

  • All I know is I have befriended some of the best people from the Dutch Bros crew in Orland, CA. I thoroughly enjoy the first stop of my day… The Dutch Bros 🙂 Thank you for creating such an amazing company culture! I strive to carry the same positivity and level of customer service to my own store daily. It's refreshing to see others who appreciate the same! And, by the way, the coffee is absolutely the best tasting coffee on the market today! I'm Dutch for life 🙂

  • My family and I love your coffee. Wish we had one in the town we are in consistently. There is only the one with the Batista. We like Dutch Bro's coffee. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  • I have a picture of my daughter drinking one of your wonderful drinks. I think you should have a picture contest for a years worth of coffee. I absolutely crave the sugar free iced annihilator. Yum!

  • My parents owned Langley's Toggery in Grants Pass. They thought very highly of your parents. Seems as if you continue with the strong ethics which were instilled in you from childhood.
    Your coffee is awesome! I'm fortunate enough to live by the Greenfield and Southern store in Mesa, Arizona. And I thank Jim Thompson for deciding that this was a great place to grow the Dutch Bros brand. Moving to Mesa didn't rule out my DB fix every (or almost every) day. Just ask the bro-istas if Bill and Donna (and most importantly Lily for her doggy cookie) were in any given day and their answer will usually be "yes"! Love, love, love DB!!!!!!!

  • Dutch Bros. downtown location in Colorado Springs was the place that no matter the storm that awaited me in the office they provided me a great start to the morning. The staff was genuinely happy to be at work. How many of us say that everyday? Although the conversation was typically brief it was fun, lighthearted and happened out of what seemed to be a sincere interest. Fond memories. When are you coming to Utah Dutch Bros?

  • I enjoy your coffee. It is so smooth without the bitterness. And I have only been to a few. The younger generation employees were always so much fun. They make you want to have a nice day. There laughter and politeness is very catchy. Again Thank you.

  • I have had a rough year and the baristas and broistas at the nearby Dutch Brothers (136th and Burton Road, Vancouver,WA) have been my shining light. Always a smile and friendly caring greeting and a great drink!!!! Thank you so much for training your employees to care about those who drive thru. They get me smiling even on my worst days.

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