No robots at any of Aroma Joe's 97 all-franchised locations, which believes in handcrafted coffee. ... [+] Pictured is a new location in Naples, Maine, which has a population of 555 people.Courtesy of Aroma's Joe
At a time when robots are working in kitchens, and artificial intelligence (AI) is directing us what to do, Aroma Joe's, an all-franchised chain of 97 locations, based in South Portland, Maine, takes its handcrafted coffee seriously. No robots for them. Instead it prides itself in having 'no automated processes in our coffee and all drinks are individually made for each customer,' said Carrie Riley, its chief marketing officer. Other coffee chains, she suggested, hit a button to prepare their coffee, but not at Aroma Joe's. 'We hand pull our espresso shots and hand tumble the milk or dairy into that beverage,' she explained. It also takes the authenticity of its coffee beans seriously. Its beans are sustainably grown, ethically-sourced, and craft-roasted at its roastery in Topsham, Maine. Centered in the Northeast, Aroma Joe's specializes in old-fashioned customer service, reliance on franchising to grow and treating its coffee farmers right. In 2021, it established the Honduras Coffee Farmers Group, which produces and supplies coffee beans to Aroma Joe's. It pays its farmers 20 cents per pound above the going rate.
Aroma Joe's launched in 2000, first in New Hampshire, before moving to Maine, and franchising has been the key to its growth. It has stayed true to its roots, expanding mostly in the Northeast in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Connecticut, but also has franchisees in Florida.
It's privately owned and hasn't tapped any private equity funding. In fact, its original owners, four cousins from Maine, Marty and Tim McKenna and Mike and Brian Sillon, still own it, along with CEO Loren Goodridge. Most of its locations are in suburban locales because it relies heavily on drive-thrus. However, it's exploring moving more into cities in 2023.
Franchising often involves giving up control to its franchisees who run each location. But Riley said it chooses its franchisees carefully and pursued candidates who 'want to grow with us and become the conduit of the company.' It also pursues people who want to give back to the community, which is an aspect of Aroma Joe's brand. Franchisees are encouraged to incorporate a community fundraiser where a percentage of proceeds from certain days go to a locally-based community organization or charitable foundation. For example, on September 29, National Coffee Day, it donates one dollar from every 16-ounce coffee to the Dempsey Center, started by Maine native and actor Patrick Dempsey, to help people impacted by cancer.
Moreover, its franchisees must be committed to delivering superior customer service. 'If you don't have a great customer experience, we haven't done our job,' Riley noted.
To prove her point, Riley vows that none of its 97 locations possesses intercoms at their drive-thrus, which nearly every other restaurant chain has to keep the line moving as quickly as possible. During the pandemic, it learned that people, sequestered in their homes, craved human interaction and the chain doesn't want to relinquish it.
'We want our staff to interact with our customers. It's not just a transaction. You order from a human being,' she underscored.
Yelp responders for one of its Portland Maine locations were mostly positive with some exceptions. Melyssa said, 'We went to a few locations and the staff was always friendly and patient since we were on vacation and hadn't been there before.' And Kimi of Portland wrote 'a nice coffee shop compared to the bigger chains like Starbucks.' But Madi of North Falmouth, Maine complained about a 20-minute wait on the drive-thru line.
But expansion is on its horizon. In 2023, it expects to open about 25 new shops, surpassing 100 locations, and may expand to Albany, New York and the Carolinas.
Why did it choose to open in Naples, Maine, a town with a population under 600 people? Riley replied that despite it's small size it attracts many tourists in the summer to its lakes and in the winter to ski, so there's lot of traffic.
In many towns, it attracts loyal customers who often come for a breakfast sandwich in the morning and sometimes lunch in the afternoon. 'We become part of their daily routine,' she said.
Asked the three keys to the future success of Aroma Joe's, Riley replied: 1) Amazing franchisees, 2) Continued innovation, 3) Friendly service.