Seattle’s Best Coffee is scheduled to simultaneously open 10 new drive-thru-only units in the Dallas-Fort Worth market in the wee hours of Monday morning, marking a potential new era of growth for the chain.

Seattle’s Best aims to make a splash in the market, where it has committed to open 15 drive-thru-only units within the next 60 days, including one franchise location.

“Going into a marketplace and making a commitment in a market is really important,” Seattle’s Best Coffee vice president and general manager Frank Sica said.

Parent company Starbucks Corp. has pledged to grow the small-footprint model after testing it in Seattle and Chicago last year. Seattle-based Starbucks has been positioning its secondary Seattle’s Best brand as a more affordable premium coffee option that is available to customers on the go in a variety of nontraditional locations.

The 523-square-foot units have walk-up service but no seating, and will offer a range of portable and value-positioned food-and-beverage combos, all priced under $5. Over the past few weeks, about 150 full- and part-time employees were trained to prepare for the synchronized openings.

The move puts Seattle’s Best in more direct price competition with other quick-service brands known for breakfast, including McDonald’s, Jack in the Box and — perhaps most directly — Dunkin’ Donuts, Sica said.

Dunkin’ Donuts, which also competes against Seattle’s Best and Starbucks with packaged coffee in grocery stores, has been aggressively growing throughout Texas in an ongoing move into Western states.

Sica said Seattle’s Best drive thrus will also attempt to capture the many Texans who buy coffee from convenience stores and gas stations.

“Our targeted consumer is looking for everyday value and taste,” Sica said. “They’re looking for a better cup of coffee and a better breakfast.”

The menu features 12 “all-day combos,” including a medium coffee, soda or tea. Food options include various breakfast sandwiches on muffins or biscuits; stuffed pretzel melts with chips; and sweet or savory pies, such as caramel apple or spicy mac ‘n’ cheese pie. Combos range in price from $3.49 to $4.69.

The units also offer signature coffees inspired by desserts, such as a caramel candy latte, birthday cake latte or s’mores mocha, available hot, iced or frozen, for $3.29 to $3.99, depending on size. Basic hot or iced coffees range in price from $1.29 to $1.99.

The 10 units were built in DeSoto, Texas, and transported on flatbed trucks to their various locations across Dallas-Fort Worth, which include commuter routes, busy intersections and shopping centers.

According to Seattle’s Best officials, Dallas County has more commuters driving from another county than any region in the country.

The drive thrus are open from 4:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.

Sica said Seattle’s Best is planning a robust program to evaluate what consumers like and don’t like about the drive thrus, using online surveys, customer intercepts and focus groups. It also plans to evaluate the impact on the brand’s sales of packaged coffee in grocery stores and other retail outlets.

“We believe there are tremendous growth opportunities for retail and other channels,” Sica said.

If deemed successful, the model will be rolled out to other markets across the country, he said, but the company is not ready to reveal the next market that might be targeted.

Seattle’s Best has been reinventing itself over the past few years. In 2011, the chain lost almost 475 retail outlets in Borders bookstores when that company liquidated. Last fall, the chain had about 100 locations, but saw more shrinkage as leases came up for renewal in what Sica called “the normal course of business.”

With the 15 units in Dallas, Seattle’s Best will have 75 coffeehouse locations. The brand’s coffee is also available through more than 50,000 other points of distribution, including restaurant chains like Burger King and Taco Bell, hotels, airlines, college campuses, movie theaters and grocery stores.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout