published on August 17, 2016 - 8:19 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
Smoking-hot coffee company Dutch Bros is brewing up a controversy in Fresno with a plan to move one of its popular kiosks.

Merchants at the Bullard Fair shopping center in northwest Fresno have been complaining for months about parking lot traffic jams created by Dutch Bros’ customers. After business owners there threatened to sue, Dutch Bros hired a private security guard to help manage traffic flow.

Employees at one Bullard Fair business say they’ve learned to park their cars “nose-out” to avoid being trapped by the near-constant line of cars snaking across the parking lot waiting to order at Dutch Bros. “It’s been a real headache for us,” said Isabel Montoya, who works at the Red Ruby Salon.

Management at the shopping center declined to comment on the situation, but the ongoing traffic problems at Bullard Fair, located at the intersection of Bullard and West avenues, prompted Dutch Bros, which operates three other Fresno outlets, to strike a deal with the owner of the adjacent Fig Tree Plaza shopping center.

Now the coffee company is poised to close its busy Bullard Fair kiosk and open a new, larger one across the street.

While Bullard Fair businesses are breathing a sigh of relief, Dutch Bros’ plan has created a new wave of complaints and concerns at Fig Tree Plaza, which include the popular Manhattan restaurant, a Me-N-Ed’s On Tap pizzeria and Princess and the Pauper consignment furniture store.

Jannell and David Anthony, owners of Princess and the Pauper, say they are “furious” about Dutch Bros opening next to their store. “We think it’s going to put us out of business,” David Anthony said this week. “I’ve already spoken to an attorney and am considering filing a lawsuit.”

Me-N-Ed’s owners John and Tom Ferdinandi also have had worries about Dutch Bros coming to Fig Tree Plaza.

“We are extremely concerned about the circulation, safety, operational and parking impacts this relocation will create to our existing facility,” John Ferdinandi said in a letter to city officials dated April 7, 2016. (Ferdinandi did not respond to requests for comment from The Business Journal on the current situation at the plaza.)

The Anthonys, who opened their store two years ago, said they have already seen a big drop off in business since construction of the new Dutch Bros kiosk started.

“It’s really upsetting. We never received any official notification from Dutch Bros or our landlord about the project,” David Anthony said. “All we got was a letter from the construction company a week before they started work.”

Anthony said the conditional use permit issued to Dutch Bros by the city to construct the new kiosk “does not in any way reflect the impact it will have on neighboring businesses.”

“During construction, we lost a half dozen of our parking spots,” Anthony said. “We really depend on customers being able to move furniture from the parking lot in and out.”

“And now that the new kiosk is there,” Anthony added, “people [driving from the west down Bullard] can’t even see our store anymore. Once the new kiosk opens, it’s going to be the deathblow for us.”

Representatives from Dutch Bros declined to comment on the controversy.

Dr. K.S. Dhillon, who has owned Fig Tree Plaza for more than 20 years, gained approval last year to build a pad for the new 480-square-foot kiosk, which will accommodate both drive-through and walk-up service and also includes a small outdoor patio.

This week, the new kiosk remained encircled by fencing. “I think they will be open by the end of August,” Dhillon said. “But that’s up to the company.”

Fresno City Councilmember Steve Brandau, whose District 2 includes Fig Tree Plaza, said that he asked city planners to do a traffic study of the shopping center’s parking lot this past April.

“I still haven’t heard back from the Planning Department on that,” Brandau said. “It’s not my philosophy to meddle too much in the marketplace but I am concerned that this new Dutch Bros could create a traffic jam inside the shopping center.”

“My understanding is that the new, larger kiosk will be able to serve a lot more vehicles without creating traffic issues,” Brandau added. “But it’s going to be really unfortunate if they can’t.”

Dhillon said he’s assured Fig Tree Plaza merchants the new kiosk will not negatively impact their businesses. “I think most of them are very happy about Dutch Bros coming,” he said.

Founded in 1992 in Grants Pass, Oregon, by dairy farmer brothers Dane and Travis Boersma, Dutch Bros is the country’s largest privately held, drive-thru coffee company. The coffee company is especially popular with millennials.

Jaime Martinez, owner of Jaime’s Designs & Floors in Fig Tree Plaza, said the Bullard Fair kiosk draws daily crowds of students from nearby Bullard High and Tenaya Middle schools.

“I guess they get enough lunch money to be able to buy $5 and $10 drinks,” said Martinez, who thinks the new Dutch Bros could magnify the plaza’s “already tight parking.”

“Right now, I’m kind of wait-and-see,” Martinez added. “But I think it’s definitely going to have a negative impact.”

Several merchants said they were looking forward to the new Dutch Bros opening. “We’re excited they’re coming,” said the owner of Donut Fantasy. “We want it. It’ll give better exposure to all of the businesses in the plaza.”

Dave Milutinovich, owner of the Manhattan, agreed and said he’s been told the new Dutch Bros will have ”state-of-the-art coffee machines that make their products much faster and keep the long lines from forming.”

The Manhattan, a fixture in Fresno since 1992, is only open in the evenings but Milutinovich said that he’s seen big crowds at the Bullard Fair Dutch Bros kiosk at night too.

“Dr. Dhillon is a great owner and I want to be a good tenant,” he said. “I’m just hoping we don’t have the same problems that they do across the street. If we do, the doc’s going to hear about it.”

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