A Bremen family and a Waldoboro family hope to open a drive-thru coffee business, The Coffee Can, on Route 1 in Waldoboro.
David Light and Joelle LeClair, of Bremen, and Don and Liza Conry, of Waldoboro, plan to house the business in a brand-new, customized 20-foot shipping container on a lot at 1350 Atlantic Highway, between Tucker Chevrolet and Dunkin’ Donuts. The business’s name is a nod to the structure.
The partners will present the details of their proposal to the Waldoboro Planning Board at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 20.
According to their application, the cafe will be a “quick, clean, easy-to-navigate drive-thru option for coffee lovers, both within the community and passing through.”
David Light, in a phone interview, said the idea was conceived over a local beer at Odd Alewives Farm Brewery in Waldoboro and the partners have been fleshing it out for the past two years. Now, they believe they are ready to move forward.
“We frequent and enjoy the Damariscotta coffee shops,” Light said. At those shops, they have noticed “a different mentality” among customers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The drive-thru seemed a better fit for the current times,” he said. “A simpler version of a cafe.”
The entrepreneurs will partner with Rock City Coffee Roasters, of Rockland, for the coffee, and with local bakeries for shortbread and other sweets. They have committed to sourcing everything as close to home as possible.
“I would rather say, ‘sorry, sold out’ of fresh-baked goods than offer something in a plastic bag heated up in a convection oven,” Light said.
The menu will be streamlined: lattes, cappuccinos, dark- and medium-roast drip coffee. There will be a few flavors, some nondairy options, and a kids menu with hot chocolates and lemonades. The owners are testing and experimenting with healthy options and different baked goods, including hand pies, looking for things that are manageable in a car.
“Consistency is so important,” Light said. “You want your black coffee to be just as good today as what you got yesterday.” The partners are investing in good equipment to meet that goal.
Light said that their research indicates that the ideal traffic count for vehicles passing the business is approximately 16,000 per day. He said the current daily average is 13,000, slightly less than the goal. But he believes the economic advantages of their business model make the plan more viable. If the Waldoboro location works out, they may look into simplified “pop-up” Coffee Cans heading toward Rockland or Boothbay.
The shipping container will be built and outfitted off-site. The application cites how its modern, industrialized look will be a good fit for Waldoboro. It can be placed on the lot, hooked up to existing water and power, and made ready to open quickly and easily, with minimal disruption. Its small footprint on the lot will give customers room to loop from an order window on one end to a pickup window on the opposite end while limiting any traffic impact.
“It’s a cool spot,” Light said. “There are nice trees on the lot.” He is hopeful that the planning board will approve the location. “It should be a simple change of use,” he said.
Light sees the shop as “a fun project.” The planning board application cites the owners’ “diverse professional backgrounds, ranging from international real estate business to years with a local land trust, from a health professional to a master craftsman.”
Light said the owners are not relying on the cafe for their primary income, so they feel “determined to make bad decisions for the right reasons.” The baked goods will be fresh. They want to pay employees above minimum wage and make them eligible for profit-sharing.
“We have never had a hard time hiring really good people in this area,” Light said. He wants to find local people “who are in it for the long haul.”
At this point, the owners expect The Coffee Can to be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., depending on the day of the week and the season. They may extend the hours if they feel it’s warranted. If approved, they hope to be up and running by April.