Amy Jackman hauled her coffee cart from Wasilla into Kenai on the back of a Suburban.
Kristen Every took over the first coffee stand built in Kenai after working there for six years.
The walls in Tiffany Palm’s stand are covered in dry-erase board material that hold everything from inspirational messages to drink orders and inventory numbers on them.
Each opened her stand, works long hours and multiple shifts to gain a share of the coffee market on the central Kenai Peninsula and while running the business is tough, local coffee stand owners say the benefits are many and they enjoy their jobs.
Each morning between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. on the central Peninsula, coffee stands light up, open their windows and start brewing for customers who need an early morning kick.
There are several stands, but no official number from either Kenai or Soldotna. When asked, city planners can count on their hands which ones there are and where each is located.
“There’s one over by the car wash. There’s one over here on Main Street Loop by the Kenai Merit Inn. There’s Amy Jackman’s which is over by Olga’s. There’s the one in the Carrs Mall,” said Nancy Carver, planning assistant for Kenai.
In Soldotna, city planner Stephanie Queen came up with an informal list of her own including The Grind, in Bailey’s parking lot, Clark’s Espresso, in Beemun’s parking lot, The Daily Buzz, Java Junction and Hooked on the Bean on K-Beach.
Every’s shop, The Espresso Barn, open in 1996, but she did not buy it until 2007.
“I was emotionally attached to it and it was something that I was very passionate about,” Every said. “I love doing it, I love being in customer service ... the coffee stand that I work at, we have such a return in clientele, it’s the same people that have been coming here for as long as I’ve been working here.”
Palm’s shop, Hooked on the Bean, sees the same customers every day as well.
“To me, it’s almost like family. I get to know them and their kids. Then, their kids bring their kids in, then I meet their parents then they have people who fly up from out of state and we get to meet them to and it’s fun,” Palm said.
Running her own business is in her blood, Palm said.
“I come from a family who, everyone owns their own business,” she said. “Whether it’s a restaurant or their own day care. I have a cousin who owns Northwest Customs, my parents own an asphalt business.”
While business was slow at first, Palm said she and her sister paid for almost everything “out-of-pocket,” and built themselves up to where they are now.
“We started out (with building colors) brown and yellow and we did not like it. But my sister and I ... let the business pay for itself. Then, over time we changed the color and updated the equipment,” she said.
Each coffee shop owner said the business was difficult to run and often while the shops themselves stay in the same locations, they often change ownership.
“Back when all the plants were running and everything, it was a pretty big market in Kenai,” Every said. “We were definitely busier ten years ago then we are now just because there’s more competition now and there’s a lot of restaurants that are serving coffee now.”
While several stands have opened in Kenai, Every said they’re just as quick to close.
“Kenai just can’t support as many as Soldotna,” she said.
Jackman, who owns C Cups Specialty Coffees in Kenai said she has had a hard time keeping costs down.
“It’s very hard to make ends meet,” Jackman said. “Not only do you have a hard time getting the supplies, you have a hard time getting the supplies that are at a reasonable cost. (Shipping) even from Anchorage to Kenai, they charge more. The customers are already paying $4.00 to $5.50 a drink, depending on what they get so you can’t really pass that along to them.”
Jackman said she may find keeping her business in the black a bit more difficult because she does not use generic coffee, she sources her beans from Raven’s Brew, an Alaska-based company.
Despite being the newest coffee stand in Kenai, Jackman said she’s growing and she’s optimistic for the future.
Each stand owner said they spend a lot of time working in their own shops, training their employees — usually other women — to make coffee the same way they learned.
“It’s balancing family and work and employees and just trying to keep everything running every day, the same way,” Every said. “I train my girls exactly the way I learned, I try to keep everything consistent and keep things running smoothly. Everyone thinks it’s just the easiest thing in the world and it’s not. If your beans are too dry or too dark or too cold it changes the taste. It takes some training.”