Since April, Bethel has been a-buzz with its own, homegrown drive-thru coffee shop: AM Coffee & Espresso. KYUK checked out the caffeine buzz on Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway at Alex Hately Drive.
“When Mark asked me what we should name it he just came up with AM Coffee, and I was like ‘what’s the AM for?’ you know. His thought was maybe April and Mark, or just morning, so we call it AM Coffee & Espresso,” said April Whitman, co-owner of one of Bethel’s newest businesses.
There aren’t many places in Bethel to purchase espresso drinks, let alone from a drive-thru café, but this past March, Whitman’s boyfriend and business partner Mark Blake decided to change all that; the response has been overwhelming.
“They love it,” Whitman said. “They drive up to the window and they say, ‘this is what Bethel needed.’”
It took the two partners less than a month from the concept to the sale of the first cup of espresso.
“So, he came up with the idea and I made a list - got all the licenses, all the paperwork - and we flew into town,” said Whitman, alluding to picking up supplies in Anchorage. “Yeah, it just happened really quick.”
Whitman and Blake both work for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, so their business plan called for hiring four part-time baristas to run their drive-thru coffee shop.
“I love making coffee. My job in Anchorage was Kaladi’s, and so I’ve been making coffee for years now,” said Jonah Koonce, their experienced and newest hire. Between customers midmorning on a Monday, Koonce ground espresso beans to pull a shot to craft a latte, then carefully composed an image in the foam.
“You can make a little heart or something if you feel like it,” Koonce said with a laugh. “It’s an art, so I enjoy it a lot.”
Business is better in the morning as people are headed to work, Koonce said. Even with the morning rush, so far lines haven’t piled up too badly. Customers are usually after one of the more popularized cold espresso drinks in recent history: the frappuccino.
“Everyone apparently wants a frap between 10 and 11,” said Koonce.
With a solid core of baristas and the business steadily growing in the early months, owner April Whitman continues to look ahead and plan for the colder part of the year.
“The water is, you know, that’s going to be a problem,” Whitman said thoughtfully. “We get our own water, it’s clean water, and that’s just going to be a challenge because it’s going to be so cold.”
For now, says Whitman, AM Coffee & Espresso intends to stay open year-round.