Thursday, June 14, 2007

There Goes the Neighborhood!

You may think, for a lover of coffee houses, there would be nothing worse than seeing a burgeoning neighborhood get its very own café, only to have it turn out to be a complete and total bust. Denver is a city of vibrant neighborhoods, each one rife with an eclectic cast of characters, folks who not only deserve, but are practically begging for their very own gathering place; a destination that both caters to and reflects their unique eccentricities. When you have to sit idly by as your favorite haunts go under, it’s pretty annoying to watch an endless string of also-rans pop up all over the place.

There is, however, something worse than that for the coffee lover (especially one who occasionally catches himself daydreaming of owning his very own joint) – and that’s when that very same neighborhood gets a concurrent barrage of half-assed coffee shops, sausaged, one after the other, into the exact same location. One ill conceived independent gets bought out by a lazy franchisee is replaced by some Johnny-Come-Lately corporation. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yawn.

A few weeks ago, #1 son and I were heading up to Cheeseman for a day in the sun when I spotted a Capitol Hill cutie walking down the street with one of those brilliantly iconic/annoyingly loud Dazbog cups that said coffee company supplies to their many local accounts. Cool, I thought… maybe at long last some enterprising individual has come along to challenge Diedrichs default title of “Official Coffee Supplier of the Queen City Queens”. I couldn’t wait to visit this sparkling new utopia, with it’s mismatched couches, and charming baristas, and down-tempo house music thump thump thumping away into the wee hours of the morning

Imagine my disappointment when I looked up to see the Diedrich Coffee sign on the corner of 9th and Downing replaced with a crookedly hung tarp reading (yeah, “duh”, I guess) “Dazbog Coffee”. Meaning, they aren’t just supplying the bean-juice, they are dictating to the hapless franchisee what kind of music gets played, what sort of art makes it onto walls, what color Dazbog logo’d tee-shirts the employees will wear, and what sort of drinks you can find on the menu (which means, presumably, you won’t be able to order a Mr. Brown and Kalua anytime soon).

In the past, I have unequivocally stated my support for the Dazbog brand. It’s just that, lately, they’ve been sprouting up locations all over town. Does anyone still think of this as a novel idea? Or even a potentially lucrative business plan? Does a city which has gone through Peaberry Coffee, Tuscany Coffee, Ink! Coffee, Caribou Coffee, Brio, Brothers Coffee, Diedrich Coffee, Coffee People, French Quarter Coffee Company, Perk and Pub, Gloria Jean’s Coffee Beans and Java City really need one more chain?

I suppose if some smart ass were to answer that completely rhetorical question with a “yes”, then the corner of 9th and Downing is as good a location for it as any. After all, that spot has a storied history, and serves as a graveyard for more than a few of the joints listed above.

See, once upon a time, back before Denver was the thriving, cultured metropolis that it is now, if you wanted a simple, decent cup of coffee - and you didn’t have an hour or two to kill while the waitress at Muddy’s or Paris poured it for you - you had precisely two choices; The Market, or Brio. Brio was an itty bitty chain that served drip coffee, espresso drinks, and one (1) kind of sandwich daily, which could not be customized, because it was pre-made in a commissary deep beneath the earth’s crust. But you didn’t care, because that one sandwich was one of the best sandwiches you could get within city limits. And Brio was good; the owners were smart enough to hire hipsters to man the locations, most of which sat in the bottom floors of office buildings where workers toiled away from 9 to 5 in their business casual.

The owners eventually sold all of their locations to the Boyer Brothers, who thought it would we be an ingenious idea to start a brand new chain of espresso bars - and viola! - Brothers Coffee was born (Their father Bill, owner of “Boyers Coffee”, sued his own sons for the use of his name, leaving his sons with their generic moniker). The brothers remodeled the store from late 80’s black and white deco into a wood grain motif, stuffed the staff into that denim shirt-and-tie combo that was so popular back in the mid-nineties, and basically drove the place straight into the ground. Their only real contribution to the Denver coffee scene was opening the shop across from Queen Soopers. The clientele affectionately referred to it as “Sister’s”.

After a few years, Diedrich Coffee acquired all of the Brothers locations, deciding it was high time to bring their popular SoCal brand to Colorado. I did my time at Brio, and at Brothers, and at Diedrich; and in that time I learned one very important thing - the people of Southern California love them some monumentally crappy coffee.

Ah, Diedrich. What can I possibly say about them that I haven’t alluded to many times before in this blog? Probably nothing, but it all bears repeating… Martin Diedrich is an egotistical, arrogant twirp of a little man, whose idea of coffee training is standing in front of a group of people for four hours, and telling them all about his “family crest”, which is emblazoned on every cup. The man spoke his own name with the hushed tones usually reserved for Hitler, or maybe Jesus. Yeah, yeah, their drip coffee was pretty good, but their espresso drinks were foul. If anyone has ever told you they got a halfway decent drink at Diedrich, it’s because their barista had at one time worked for a better shop. Or they had their sense of taste irreparably damaged due to a severe brain injury.

When the Diedrich plan to establish a new world order, on par with that of Starbucks (while always bemoaning the big green label in the same breath) fell through, they handed the reins over to a franchisee, one who also owned a few Burger Kings. Because, you know, the King knows coffee.

Under the direction of this new franchisee, the store fell further into disrepair, the service got worse, and the staff exhibited that sort of slacker anarchy that happens when the owners just stop caring and the clientele is far too entranced in their habit to go anyplace else.

Over the years, I’ve overheard many an entrepreneur muse about getting their hands on the 2 Diedrich locations that book-ended Cheeseman. And I’ve no doubt the reason none of them jumped on it was that they would have had to take a few of those old Brio locations off their hands, as well. So, now, we’ve got Dazbog.

And how do they fare? Well, credit where credit is due – the coffee I got there on a recent visit was 100% better than anything that’s come out of that location in the last 5 years – maybe even ever. I watched the barista pour a flawless shot of espresso into my red-eye, causing my mouth actually water (and to think, just a few years ago I heard Leonid say that automatic machines were the way of the future – for shame!). On another visit, when I asked to have my beans ground for a toddy maker, the barista didn’t even bat an eye, which was a refreshing change from the apoplectic fit that the average Diedrich employee would’ve had at the same request.

But how is Dazbog really different? Where does it truly distinguish itself from what’s come before? The truth is, it doesn’t; the signs on the wall are the same old humdrum advertisements, and the men’s room still looks it belongs in a New York City subway station (though to be fair, the prospect of cleaning it is more than a little intimidating – we used to have this regular that we called “The Naughty-Potty Man” who would go in there for an hour and… actually, just forget I brought it up.)

It’s funny though, go check out the comments section re:Diedrich Coffee at the Denver Coffee Blog. It’s proof positive that every coffee shop, no matter how pathetic, is somebody’s favorite. And every single owner, from Brother’s on, has had to deal with the complaints when change happens.

My advice for the new owner operator is this – get to know the Boyz in the Hood’. Get a new coat of paint on the walls. Ditch the Muzak. Maybe get yourself one of those hazmat suits and hose down the john.

And most of all, put your heart into it… maybe there’s still a chance to make it everybody’s favorite.


Anonymous said...

You can find more information on Diedrich here.

All of your complaints are legitimate ones, and shareholders haven't been served properly either.

MrDanger said...


I miss brio

vivavavoom said...

that meeting was at least 6 hours with Martin Hitler Diedrich. 6 hours of bullshit.
just like the bullshit 'Diedrich Cappuccino' with its 3 layers. (I do have fond memories of the 12th and clayton store mainly because of you though). wonder if he is still giving that speech about how we should be proud of making $5.50 an hour when his workers make .15 a day and don't bitch. (it's called slavery, martin.....guatemalan slavery)

locomocos said...

maybe they'll take over Pablo's. They need a much needed attitude make over.

james said...

Thanks for the background on Diedrich/Boyer/Daz Bog. Very interesting.

I live a few blocks from the Daz Bog at 12th and Clayton. I've given the new location a few shots, but haven't been impressed. Mainly because they took away the fresh made sandwiches. I prefer sandwiches made in front of me. Not the kind that are mummified in plastic two days prior and sit in a display case white the mayo and cheese to congeals together.

Anyway I now hike down to Java Creek on weekend mornings, and am going to give "Under the Umbrella" at 12th and Madison

All the best- james

Anonymous said...

Great piece!! I am new to the blogs, but really enjoyed your comments. I own Blueberry's in Littleton, (where we have great food too!) and I serve Daz Bog coffee. I'm interested in anyone's comments regarding the coffee. I like it, but what do I know? I've been referred to CODA, anyone have a recommendation? Thanks, I'll frequent this blog, I already love it!
PS, I'm not too impressed with DB stores either, they just put one near where I live on Park & 17th. The staff there is pretty good, if not great. A little sterile, (and RED!) but I like these guys and they're better than Capri!

the HEIRLOOM cafe said...

We are serving CODA coffee now as well as Novo Coffee. I love both of them. Novo's on the expensive side; it's tough to make that work. CODA is competitively priced and roasts a nice bean. The folks at both companies are very friendly and fun to work with. On another note, Caff X, when are you going to make your way to my shop? We're on the corner of Emerson & Ohio in West Wash Park. 5 blocks north of the I-25 Emerson exit. See you soon!

gibb said...

I gave the new Daz Bog a try and was so glad to see they served Udi's sandwiches and burritos....until I ate them. I have no idea why the burrito smelled and tasted like soap....but the avocado sandwich, had already turned that putred brown color so didn't want to risk my health by eating it. the coffee was lackluster...nothing to go back for, but the blended drink I had was very good...actually tasted like coffee, not some sweet milkshake. other than that, the service was just real acknowledgment....not tipworthy in other words. The place has a lot of the same clientele from Diedrich's...and I am assuming all the other places you mentioned since it seemed to be a meeting place for older gay men...not as many cheesman youngin's that have their ads in the back of Outfront. The place decor was very hard can it be to add some plants at least.And overall needed a serious cleaning by the condiments!! there were also way too many wifi people taking over all the inside tables. 1 person for a 4 top...ugh.
will go back for the chilled blended drinks...but just occassionally. Hope they cleaned that bathroom you mentioned...didn't even want to test that one out.

great writing btw...look forward to more.

Anonymous said...

The current owners of Dazbog have done a fantastic job of turning around the coffee shop business on 9th and Downing.

It is true we are losing mom and pop coffee shops to chain shops but this one is owned and operated independently by two gay men who are probably the best suited for running this coffee house. It has come a long way since it was Diedrich.

Though their coffee is better than Starbucks and numerous other coffee shops I've been to in the area, most of the fine people who go to this coffee shop are there for the atmosphere. Not the coffee.

I'm tired of coffee shop snobs. It's only coffee!