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Rushing for a fresh roast

New Coffee Rush restaurant gives customers a place to sit, drink, plug in
by: Jaime Valdez, Ron Yost, an owner of Coffee Rush, is pleased with the new Beaverton restaurant on Southwest Griffith Drive. The shop offers coffee, free wi-fi and gelato.

To perform effectively in the daily grind, most people need coffee.

And Coffee Rush is ready to give it to them. The company could be the largest locally owned coffee firm in Portland now that Seattle's Starbucks plans to convert the region's Coffee People shops into their own brand.

Coffee Rush, which recently opened one of its first sit-down restaurants in Beaverton's new shopping mall on Southwest Griffith Drive, serves nearly 3,000 customers daily, mostly with five drive-through stands dotting parking lots across the region.

It offers more than just a regulated plop of crème over a glass of steamed milk. The restaurants and kiosks also serve gelato, free wireless Internet and smiles from employees.

'We call it the Rush Experience,' said co-owner Ron Yost at the new Beaverton location across the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway from one of the busiest 24-hour Starbucks in the region.

Coffee Rush opened its first drive-through kiosks in Beaverton 15 years ago. The new sit-down restaurant opened two months ago in a shopping center built just across the parking lot from Beaverton's City Hall.

Coffee Rush uses nearly 50 percent organic fair-trade beans from Dillanos, a Sumner, Wash., roaster. The company's gelato is presented in heaping swirls by well-groomed 20-somethings in black slacks and shirts. The shop also doles out pastries, smoothies, milkshakes and blended espresso drinks.

Yost's employees are expected to remember customer's names and drinks that provide rapport through interaction.

'It is visual and interactive,' he said.

Gelato makers

Coffee Rush opened its first drive-through kiosk in Beaverton 15 years ago. To finance the business, Ron Yost works for Estech, a medical surgery equipment company, designing cardiac surgery equipment.

After traveling through Tuscany in the summer 2004, the Yosts decided to add gelato. Ron and Lisa Yost use an adapted recipe without egg in two imported $30,000 gelato-makers at the company's Beaverton and Oregon City restaurants.

Last year, Coffee Rush was named one of North America's best managed small coffee chains by Coffee Fest/Seattle, the nation's largest specialty coffee show.

The new coffee shop fits neatly into a corner section of the new mini-mall built last fall where Sayler's Old Country Kitchen once stood. Couches sit in a back corner under dimmed lights and nearly a dozen tables in front of the gelato and pastry display cases fill the room.

Most tables are filled by mid-morning with office employees, working from their laptops and sipping on roasted coffee.

Coming to us

Starbuck had first been approached about the retail space, but, according to the Yosts, wanted a drive-through window as an alternative to the sit-down Starbucks across the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

When there wasn't space for a drive-through, the company decided against the site.

'Before choosing a location, Starbucks looks at a variety of factors,' Starbucks public relations officials wrote in an e-mail. 'Locations must be convenient for our customers to come and get a great cup of coffee. They must also be located in high traffic areas and be highly visible to allow our customers to easily locate us.'

Ron Yost hopes people who got their mostly caffeine drinks from Coffee People will turn to his kioks and restaurants.

'The end of Coffee People is sad, but there were a certain number of people that would purposefully not go to Starbucks and instead went to Coffee People,' Yost said. 'Now some of those customers have started coming to us.'

Business has increased 35 percent at another Coffee Rush location, a 12-by-24-foot stucco drive-through on Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard, since nearby Coffee People closed its doors.

'The biggest difference we provide is an alternative,' Yost said. 'People that come here tend to want to support their local (businesses).'

To compete with the coffee giant across the road, Coffee Rush might consider keeping its doors open all night.

'We may if our business grows, but we've only been at this for a short while, so we'll just cross that bridge when we get there,' Yost said.

Andrew Miner is a Portland freelance writer.