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Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis

Java Detour
Java Detour interior.

Carving its niche has been critical to San Francisco-based Java Detour’s success. The concept launched in an already competitive specialty coffee segment in 1995, but effectively set itself apart with its focus on speed and convenience without sacrificing quality. Twelve years later, Java Detour is carving a new niche as a boutique brand with a chic, contemporary lounge environment, while still delivering custom, premium coffee drinks in mere seconds.

“We literally built the company around speed, convenience, and quality,” says Cofounder and CEO Michael Binninger. “We still live and breathe those core values. We still can make drinks faster than any other company, but we saw a need for a more flexible floor plan.”

Initially the concept was a convenient detour on the morning commute. Located close to freeway entries, Java Detour began as a 600-square-foot double drive-thru concept. “Most of our competitors were not looking at drive-thru as a viable method of delivery. We saw that as our opportunity,” says Binninger, who founded the company with his brother, Steven, who is president and COO.

“We developed proprietary preparation methods and pumping systems. We tried every way to cut out five seconds here or 10 seconds there. We can deliver 140 transactions in an hour. That’s less than 30 seconds apiece. And some of those are multiple drink orders. It’s not just that we do it that fast, but that the drinks consistently taste so good, too.”

Customer tastes favor the Cold Rush blended drinks—no surprise with most of Java Detour’s locations in Northern California and Las Vegas. The company added the frozen coffee drink line in its second year and fruit smoothies a year later to increase warm-weather and afternoon sales. Another draw in the afternoons is the kids’ menu, which includes warm or cold flavored milks, milkshakes, and fruit smoothies similar to the adult varieties.

“We’ve perfected our systems over eight to nine years to be able to produce our frozen beverages as fast as the hot ones,” Binninger says. “Our syrups are a proprietary product manufactured for us. There is no product that parallels ours in quality. It doesn’t melt away right away, and it keeps its texture for quite a while.”

The top-selling Cold Rush Blend is the Oreo Cookie Latte, followed by the mocha varieties, which include the Mocha, the Black & White (half white and half dark chocolate), and the White. “You won’t find an Oreo Cookie Latte at Starbucks,” Binninger says. “It’s very tough to be different in this segment. We’ve worked hard to define our signature beverages.”

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