Nick Bayer says his company, Saxbys Coffee, is not looking to become a formidable competitor to Starbucks.
But if all goes as planned for Bayer, Saxbys is likely to be the largest single-entity alternative to Starbucks in Philadelphia. And come the end of January, it will be another alternative to the two Starbucks on Temple’s Main Campus.
1900-02 Liacouras Walk, the former location of PNC Bank, will be turned into a Saxbys Coffee franchise by the end of winter break. It will be the first of six planned locations in Philadelphia.
“The location on Liacouras was a real priority for us,” Bayer said. “With the aggressive growth plans at Saxbys, we think it’s a great place to introduce our brand.”
Saxbys operates 30 stores in 13 markets, including three in the greater Philadelphia area. But as of now, the company has no location inside the city.
Bayer and Joe Grasso, CEO of Walnut Street Capital, plan on operating 200 locations nationally and 15-20 in the greater Philadelphia area by the end of next year. After Grasso independently acquired Saxbys in July and moved it from its former Atlanta headquarters, Saxbys put a stronger focus on the Philadelphia market.
The store has particularly tried to wedge itself into the college market and has opened stores on four college campuses on both coasts and in the Sun Belt. It is currently working on deals to put locations on the campuses of University of Pennsylvania, Drexel and St. Joseph’s.
“We feel that the college market is a tremendous market for us to be tapping into, and how perfect is it to be the first one in Philadelphia on the Temple campus?” Grasso said.
Robert Hoe, co-president of Campus Walk Partners, which operates Liacouras Walk, said Saxbys was the most enthusiastic applicant for the Liacouras spot.
Its enthusiasm is hardly surprising. Not only is Liacouras Walk the main commercial corridor on Temple’s campus, but the Starbucks at the TECH Center is the most lucrative Starbucks in Philadelphia, the store’s manager Ben Hamilton told The Temple News in February.
What Bayer hopes will separate Saxbys from Starbucks is what he calls the “warmth of mom-and-pop coffee shops with the consistent appeal of national chains.”
Indeed, each Saxbys franchise is independently owned and operated. But Saxbys will also feature a point-of-service system that tracks users’ orders and allows store owners to cater to each individual customer.
“After your fifth visit, our expectation is the baristas know your name,” Bayer said. “And if they don’t, then, at the very least, they’ll know your drink.”
Until last year, the Liacouras location was occupied by PNC Bank, which was “so successful” that they decided to move and expand next door where Dunkin’ Donuts used to run, Hoe said. Adjacent to the Conwell Inn, the two properties will be connected once Saxbys finishes construction.
Co-president of Campus Walk Partners Kevin Duffy said he doesn’t recall Starbucks every applying for the spot.
While Grasso and Bayer insist that they are not looking to usurp the dominant position of Starbucks in Philadelphia, Hoe said Grasso and Bayer are “very much trying to position the brand as a competitor to and superior to Starbucks.”
“There was never a thought in [my or Bayer’s] mind that we were putting Starbucks out of business or competing with them,” Grasso said. “But there is certainly light beyond Starbucks. The time has come that there should be an alternative.”
Andrew Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.