Less than a year after East Liberty-based Zeke’s Coffee pulled together a successful crowdfunding campaign to finance an unexpected move, the company opened its long-planned drive-thru window down the block from their Penn Avenue café.
Production manager Chad Hammitt says the drive-thru took a little longer than initially planned, but they’re confident it’s going to be a hit. “We tried the idea in a farmer’s market tent on the same spot,” he says. “As soon as we closed up the tent, we had so many people asking us, ‘when are you going to have the drive-thru again?’”
With a few exceptions, such as Island Bean on McKnight Road in Ross, and BeanThru on Route 65 in Bellevue, most coffee drive-thru windows in the Pittsburgh area are attached to chains like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, Hammitt notes. He thinks offering coffee from a local shop that roasts its own beans will attract current and new customers.
“The majority of people we had at the farmer’s market drive-thru were stay-at-home parents, who didn’t want to park and walk two blocks,” he says. The challenge might be getting commuters who drive down Penn Avenue to get Downtown to stray from their usual routes slightly, to the drive-thru’s Broad Street location. “We’re hoping to shake some people out of their morning routines,” Hammitt says. They plan some local radio spots and have a Groupon in the works as well, to draw some attention to the new venture.
And, Hammitt adds, he wants to try to encourage anyone on wheels to drive on through for a cup of joe. It’s not a bad idea, since East Liberty has a fair number of the city’s designated bike lanes. “People who want to ride their bikes through are welcome,” as are skateboards, and even pedestrians, if they’re really determined, he says.
The drive-thru window came about after Zeke’s was forced out of its space at 6012 Penn Avenue late last year, when a developer announced plans to raze several buildings to make way for apartments. Hammitt and Zeke’s owner Chris Rhodes found a raw space across the street at 6015 Penn, but needed to scrape together enough cash to renovate it before the lease was up at the old space. A “Save Zeke’s” Indiegogo campaign blew past their initial goal of $15,000, amassing more than $21,000 in a month’s time, and ahead of the January deadline. That extra funding allowed them to realize their stretch goal of opening the drive-thru, Hammitt says.
Unfortunately, the drive-thru ran into issues less than a week after opening: The Allegheny County Health Department cited Zeke’s on Oct. 6 for operating without a license. The ACHD action does not include Zeke’s main location at 6015 Penn Avenue in East Liberty, which Hammitt confirmed.
In the citation, the health department states the location at 6314 Broad Street was closed on Tuesday, for operating without a permit, lack of toilet facilities, inadequate hand-washing facilities and “failure to submit plans.”
Hammitt says “it looks like we’re a sink short of a picnic,” and says Zeke’s was “already in the workings of having this equipment installed regardless, albeit a day late and a dollar short.”
He hopes to have the required updates made within a week to allow the drive-thru to reopen, Hammitt adds.
Since reopening in February, Hammitt says Zeke’s has hired seven new employees, and business has been booming. The company’s future plans include growing the wholesale side of the business, but other locations aren’t on the horizon right now, Hammitt says, emphasizing the company’s committment to its current neighborhood.
“We figure if people want to visit Zeke’s Coffee in Pittsburgh, they can come on over to East Liberty,” he adds.