Local Subway king adding Biggby Coffee outlet
From The Muskegon Chronicle
by Dave Alexander
Muskegon’s sandwich king is adding coffee to his franchise network.
Local Subway Sandwich shop king Pete Gawkowski is opening Muskegon’s first Biggby Coffee, the fast-growing East Lansing-based regional coffee shop chain. He is partnering with family friend Deb Smith, who will manage the shop at 3295 Henry in Roosevelt Park.
The coffee shop, with drive-thru service and Wi-Fi access for wireless Internet users inside, is located in front of the Wal-Mart and directly across the street from the newly created entrance to the Meijer Inc. Gawkowski — who owns 16 Subways from Muskegon to Grand Haven and Newaygo County — and Smith are not just opening a single outlet, but expecting to develop the Biggby brand in the Muskegon area.
“I started as a loyal Biggby customer years ago, so I know what makes the whole experience unique from the other side of the counter,” said Gawkowski, who also is developing an indoor baseball/softball training facility in southern Norton Shores. “When I was looking for my next franchise opportunity, I knew Biggby Coffee was it and I’m proud to bring that experience to Muskegon.”
Smith, of Norton Shores, comes to the coffee business from 11 years as a paraprofessional working in the Muskegon Public Schools’ reading programs. During the past year, she has worked in the food service industry and has been working on the Biggby development since June.
What: East Lansing-based drive-thru, coffee-shop chain opening its first outlet in Muskegon Tuesday.
Who: Franchise owners are Pete Gawkowski and Deb Smith, who will be general manager.
Where: 3295 Henry in Roosevelt Park, in front of Wal-Mart.
When: Hours of operations are Monday through Saturday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The coffee shop opens Tuesday. It will offer coffee, various espresso-based specialty drinks, smoothies, teas and light food from bagels and bake goods to sandwiches.
“Biggby is more than just coffee,” Smith said. “It’s the experience. It’s where everyone knows your name.”
Smith said that she and Gawkowski have sought a coffee shop opportunity for some time. The coffee business is the fastest growing segment in the food service industry and Muskegon still offers opportunities, she said.
The partners, who operate as GNS Java, had thought about an independent shop but found the Biggby franchise the best path into the business. Biggby, founded in an old Arby’s outlet near Michigan State University’s campus in 1995, provides its franchise owners with a successful business plan and plenty of backup training, Smith said. The shop will bring 20 full- and part-time jobs.
The average cost to open a Biggby franchise is $250,000, according to the company. GNS Java has leased a 1,500 square-foot end unit in a new strip center that also will house a cellular phone outlet, Asian take-out restaurant, a gaming store and a yet-to-be leased space, Smith said.
In selecting the Henry Street location, GNS Java looked at traffic counts and found the morning numbers favorable for a coffee shop, Smith said. Gawkowski just opened a rebuilt Subway at Henry and Summit avenues and knows the area well.
“You can’t discount a man who has succeeded with 16 Subways,” Smith said of Gawkowski’s experience. “Pete has a proven track record.”
This is the 102nd Biggby Coffee outlet. The company survived a major brand issue when it changed its original name “Beaner’s Coffee” to Biggby Coffee in early 2007. The new brand retained the distinctive orange “B” logo.
The former name was seen by some as an ethnic slur against Hispanics.
The company has outlets in 10 states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. The coffee chain — with an Allendale outlet and 19 in the Grand Rapids area — expects to have 170 outlets by the end of 2010.
There is no doubt that GNS Java will move forward on additional Muskegon-area locations, Smith said, adding that initial customer response to the Henry Street outlet will determine the pace of expansion.
“We are absolutely looking to expand,” Smith said.