Talking with a barista at a Coffee Plantation Saturday night I learned that The Coffee Plantation is under new ownership.

The barista I spoke with said the new owner is open to suggestions.

What are your suggestions for improving Coffee Plantation?

Arizona Coffee

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  1. I have fond memories of “Coffee Plant” on Mill Avenue back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Back then, it was one of the few coffee houses in town and always a cool place to be. Sometime in the mid ’90s, Starbucks moved in and coffee houses became a commodity. The Coffee Plantation lost its luster and the sale to Diedrich only seemed to confirm the loss of a distinctive identity. If the new ownership is local, that’s something to boast about. Maybe the new owners should stress the Coffee Plantation’s 2o-year heritage in Phoenix and its role as a pioneer in bringing coffee house culture to the area.

  2. I’m going to chime in on my own post:

    1. I would upgrade the interior and modernize the plantation style. Take a look at Maui Wowi and be impressed with how they’re handling their look and feel.

    2. Better training. Make your lattes better. They suck, frankly. The milk is often burnt, and the wands are not cleaned enough.

    3. Look around at some of the amazing coffee experiences here in Phoenix. There are some great coffee shops that can be your inspiration. Look at the amazing furniture at Lux. Be different but always be aware of your competition.

    4. Make us proud to live in Phoenix.

  3. Not knowing the place, I’ve been giving hints as to how you can tell if you’re in a (real) coffee shop. IF they’re not doing these things, they might consider them.
    1. Check the steam wand. If it’s not *completely* milk free, it should be because it is in use.
    2. You should hear the grinder start right after you make your order. The exception would be if the shop is doing rapid-fire business that allows it to keep up with the auto on some grinders.
    3. You should be able to watch the shot as it’s pulled. If you can’t see the shot you may not want to.
    4. The baristi will have a ritual that they follow every time they pull a shot. It insures consistency in repetition. There will be some flourishes, too.
    5. Microfoam may not be standard, but it should be a possiblity. Latte art, while not required, is usually a good indicator.
    6. The shop will have a close personal relationship with their roaster. They may be the same shop, or they may not. Quite often, with smaller roasters or larger shops, the roaster will blend specifically for that shop.
    7. There is no politically correct/gender neutral green mermaid in sight.

  4. hb

    I stoped going to coffee plantation because at the Biltmore location( 2 years a go):
    – bad tasting coffee
    – bad service (half of the time people were just playing arround)
    – no free WiFi
    – unconfortable chairs, better seating area
    – limited selection of baked treats (the ones they sell are horrible)
    – hot chocolate was horrible (my wife doesn’t drink coffee)

  5. I’ve been going there off an on for the last 20 years or so, and never really liked the coffee served, but the atmosphere was okay, as is the location, so I drink iced teas instead.

    The baked goods were/are limited. There’s nothing appetizing about seeing a 3/4 empty case with whatever’s left in disarray. It gives it “the stale leftover look”. Years ago I told the manager that they need to offer more, with the Cornerstone opening up and all (long time ago), but he acted as if he didn’t care.

    When I think about whether to stop in or not, I always seem to recollect flies buzzing around old coffee cups left on the tables. Keeping the place clean would be my biggest suggestion for improvement; not an easy task given the amount of messy perpetual college students that tend to hang out there.

  6. I think that part of the charm of the vintage-era Coffee Plantation was its warmth. Yeah, it was a bit kitschy (think pre-Gap Banana Republic, when they sold pith helmets), but you felt good about the experience. Later, that “casual” atmosphere was just an excuse covering up broken equipment, dirty kitchens, and a barista that looked like he had an infection developing around the rusty fishook through his eyebrow.

    I was with Starbucks when they were planning their entry into the Phoenix market, and I had a long talk with the VP of Development. I was told that Starbucks was only opening “B” category stores (small & not built for volume) because Coffee Plantation was such a dominant player in the Phoenix market. The stores at 7th and McDowell/Tatum and Shea illustrate this strategy (they were two of the first three stores).

    Unfortunately for CP, they sold to Diedrichs at this time, and Starbucks was able to take advantage of Dietrich’s early changes.

    P.S. The Founder of Diedrich’s quit (forced?), and opened his own coffeehouse in Newport Beach. It’s frackin good, and only a half mile from my sister-in-law’s house. (Not quite material, but Martin Diedrich has his head screwed on right for this one.)

  7. On further reflection, I agree with what several of you have written: customer service. I rarely receive a smile when ordering, and my drink is almost never “announced.” I’m never certain whether the drink they put on the counter is mine or someone elses.

    With all of that said, if they had an awesome latte, I’d be willing to overlook quite a bit.

  8. I would say customer service was a big thumbs down when I went to the bilmore location a few weeks back. I was talking with someone in line after the order was taken but before we got our drinks, and the (i’ll use the term) hostess, was very rude in making it clear the we were in the wrong spot still. A snotty, “do you need something else because there are customers.” Also the mocha was lackluster. Very flat, but not like starbucks.

  9. h

    I was sitting outside with a couple of friends and the “owner” was walking to check if everybody who was sitting down had drinks. If you didn’t have a drink or were done with your drink he would ask you to leave. I saw him ask a few people to order more or leave. Since that day I never came back.

  10. mikeftrevino

    I need to ask about your post H.
    Was the place full? Was there a nice rush going on at the time where those paying customers needed to find a seat?
    I don’t know this place and it’s volume, but I have worked at places where seating was a premium and if you hadn’t bought a drink, you were asked to do so.
    As a business owner, it makes more sense to ask the non payer to please buy or make room for the Paying customer. We can easily lose the paying customer because they couldn’t find a seat. If the non-payer gets hurt and never comes back, it’s not as big a loss when compared to losing a paying customer.
    As for asking the person, who’s drink was empty, to leave. How long had they been there? You’d be surprised how many people think that buying one drink is the equivalent to paying rent on a table for , literally, twenty-four hours.
    We coffee shops want to be social centers but we need to pay our rent too. We cannot grow if we do not sell drinks.

  11. “P.S. The Founder of Diedrich’s quit (forced?), and opened his own coffeehouse in Newport Beach. It’s frackin good!

    I’ll double that. I was gigging at the NB Marriott just across the bay down PCH, and ran out of fresh beans. I happened to see them while I was getting a haircut and a sandwich at the shopping center across the street, and have decided that they are pretty much the only ‘real’ coffeeshop between San Diego and Long Beach. Nice folk, great shop (kinda old world wooden charm) great cappu.

  12. hb

    I’m not sure if you have a conection with CP, if you do you should encourage the new owner to get better service, coffee and food. That way people will spend money while they enjoy the outside seating. I’m not sure if you understand that coffee houses are a place to chat with people, work on homework, enjoy your music (mp3 player), read a book etc.
    Look at any coffee shop and tell me if all the people have drinks, do they leave immediately after finishing their drink or they stay longer?
    Thats not the way it works.
    You can run your business any way you like, the only problem is that are you going to be in business for a long time?

  13. I like this, 12 postings. I see nobody has defended cp yet. They were very inconsistent and the employees were never given the right tools to work. For the last 4 years they had change ownership several times and that is an indicator of something. The coffee business is never easy and I hope the new ownership will realize that phoenix now have well developed and quality driven coffee houses. For a long time they were the big dog in town (said by a previous cp owner) and now no more. Good luck.

  14. I would highly disagree with miketrevino about kicking people who don’t have drinks ANY LONGER out. I think that a regular customer who hangs out is worth more than many other occasional or one time customers.

    I suppose that it all depends on the situation, but on the whole I think that you should just let people be. We get a lot of kids in who don’t buy ANYTHING EVER and will take up two more couches during busy times. Sometimes we will ask them to move, but they have families and parents who come in. People can distort truths further than reality and it can seriously hurt a business. Take a look at this. Here is a popular coffee blog in Arizona. If i were looking for a place to go and was curious about CP, I would NEVER go there. Was it worth it to the owner that night that he asked people to move? The repercussions go much further than people ever know. Customer service, customer service, customer service.

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  16. Jerrid

    Although I also have many complaints about CP, I do have to say I usually get good & friendly service at the store on Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. Although my coffee might not be the greatest, they are usually consistent which is more than I can say for the Biltmore CP. I would also suggest the new owners consider using more of the “classic” Coffee Plantation format that many of us grew up with and loved. The two newest stores (FLW & Westgate) that were opened under the company’s previous ownership are nice, but lack the old CP charm. They remind me of a typical Tully’s or Seattle’s Best. Granted, the “classic” stores that are still left open (Mill Ave. & Scottsdale & Shea) look a bit run down now but I have fond memories of the unique and warm plantation-like feel they once invoked.

  17. Todd

    I’ve only been to CP twice in the 18 months I have lived in the Valley. Both times I left disappointed. The coffee was bitter and burnt and, when I asked how long it had been sitting out the barista barely looked up from her magazine to shrug her shoulders. The atmosphere was nice and relaxing and I would really love to be able to go there, order a truly good cup of coffee or latte, and read the Sunday paper. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be back again any time soon.

  18. mikeftrevino


    I know nothing more of the store than what is posted here. That is why I said, “I don’t know this place and it’s volume.”
    I’m sorry if I came across the internet as being rude, snippy, or a smart ass. I’m not trying to be.
    I am trying to see and maybe explain all sides. I have much experience in this field but obviously don’t carry much weight around here since I do not frequent this site as much. Thanks for reading my post and caring enough to reply.

  19. hb

    No worries, It’s just a way to say what we feel.
    I love coffee, always looking for the best place to enjoy a cup and meet great people.
    Thank you for your opinion and please come back to the website. I’m a big fan, Thx Chris for this great website.

  20. Pierce/Bear

    re: Post #14:

    Having been to Austin’s store (Cafe e Vida) on several occasions; I am in full agreement on how he does things…….

    I may not get out to Globe very often; but, when there I try to get to his shop for my iced Mocha. 🙂

    BTW: I was there this past Saturday……apparently, Austin ‘saw’ me coming and ran for the hills :P:P:P

    All joking aside; I wanted to say hi but he had other business to attend to according to his Barista. 🙂

  21. Suggestion for improving CP:
    Crack down on the employees. Hard. My general impression from them is that they’re just there to make a buck. They should care about pleasing the customer, making a cup of coffee without equal, or both.

    I realize that this task is monumental, but it would go a long way toward cementing CP’s position in Phoenix coffee.

  22. Pierce/Bear

    Michael T:

    Also treat CP’s ‘good’ employees well………. 🙂

  23. Krista

    I have to say I’m glad to hear Coffee Plantation is under new ownership, a change was definitely in order.

    Years ago, it was one of the few local coffee houses in town, but it has been going downhill for quite some time, sadly enough.

    My biggest pet peeve is that it always seems dirty. Just a good scrub down and regular maintenance could do wonders.

    Also – don’t pre-make your ice mochas! They shouldn’t come out of a machine – they should be made fresh!

    I wish the new owner the best of luck, and maybe I’ll give it another try sometime.

  24. joseph

    I second the pre-made iced lattes comment. I already know I’m overpaying for my drink; the least you could do is not rub it in by pouring it out of a container from the fridge. That stuff might be days old.

  25. If they would just go back to what they were when they had tyheir original store on Mill Avenue. They roasted coffee right there in the front of the store, their quality was unsurpassed and it was obvious they loved that they made and sold. Two years down the road, they had sold out and started chasing the chains.

    I would have gone to Coffee Plantation any day if they were like that, but my last visit was (ahem) my LAST VISIT.

  26. Heather

    Well, I won’t be going to Coffee Plantation at the Biltmore myself. Love it there, the coffee was fine and the wireless adequate, but the servers literally stole my phone one night. I left it there (I was helping rescue a table from a dog overturning it) and it was recovered, when we called, they told me it was there (nice employee) and the employee said he would leave it on the counter (the store was locked) and we just had to knock on the locked window. We did so, and the phone was gone (all after closing). Can’t trust the employees?

  27. Elisabeth

    I think the interior of the coffee plantation is fine, it is comfortable and spacious. I think the tables could be spread out more and the back, couch/sitting area can be updated.

    The drinks suck, sorry, especially the iced ones. Who actually premakes their iced drinks? GROSS! Plus, I noticed the baristas do not use thermometers when heating up their milk. Gross and wrong. I’m sorry using your hands to gauge heat is bad and unhealthy. The service is fantastic, just more training is needed, and no premade coffee drinks of any kind.

    I would love to work at the coffee plantation, I think the people are nice, the location is great, the hours are great and that I could be an asset the business. Just some ideas, take them how you would like. 🙂

  28. Know thy audience. Mediocre coffee and disaffected service might fly if your audience is college kids who just want a place to study. Then you’ll probably really want to offer inexpensive sandwiches. The Shea location seems plenty busy just with shoppers wanting to sit down and chill a bit and people meeting. Offering exceptional coffee won’t change the main appeal but in that ritzy area, better service is a must. I had no idea such a thing as a claflouti existed until I started eating them at LUX left and right. In general, every management decisions anywhere is a bad decision except for this one: hiring and good people and letting them do their thing. Clearly the LUX at some point hired a gosh durn college edumacated chef. Their passion and breadth of knowledge rubs off on the clientel creating demand where there was none. If they had chocolate chip cookies and cheese danishes, they’d sell a few, but they’d never entice people to partake for the sheer pleasure of it. It’s doubtful the Mill Ave education could benefit from that but the Shea location surely could.

    Good comes with bad. There’s no easy way to sort out the people you want there and those you don’t. The table with one person with a drink and two without might be that person with’s daily caffeine stop and his two friends who just happened to meet him that one day. Ask them to leave and you’ve just asked a daily customer to leave. I’ve been in that situation. As a corrolary, if you’re the owner, spend time in your own joint. See what the ebb and flow looks like.

    I said there’s no easy way to sort out who you want there and who you don’t, but there are ways. Encourage what you like and that social group will restrengthen itself. If you see some lady in there who peddled up on her townie bike with a basket on the front reading a book and you like that, tell her so, and offer her a refill on her drink. Like begets like.

    Starbucks changed the face of coffee, for good or bad. Before it, you couldn’t sit in your average coffee shop unless it was some place like Hard Times — bum coffee. And a lot of people used to hang out there anyway and play chess with their friends and pay 50 cents for a cup of coffee when they’d just as happy pay five dollars if someone else was willing to take their money. Starbucks was. We’re lonely. We work for big companies and don’t get along with your employees, or we work by ourselves, and we work late, we don’t have families in town, and our only friends are fair weather friends. Coffee shops, like bars, serve our need to be around people, and to get out of the house and be in public. Don’t forget this need that’s more fundamental than coffee itself. Part of the reason they’re epically successful is they don’t harass the high school kids who show up at 3:30 and hang out for a while. Having a comfortable, welcoming environment is far more important than ensuring there are always available seats.

    Oh man. There’s a coffee shop on Scottsdale Rd… don’t remember the name of it… that had Ottomen. I don’t know if you know what an Ottoman is, but according to the dictionary, it’s a thing you put your feet on. I took off my shoes and put my feet up in the corner with the laptop. I came back the next day and all of the tables and other places had signs insisting the patrons keep their shoes on and their feet off the furniture. This is dumb on so many levels. If I’m the only person to do that, then I’m the only one who needs to be asked not to do it. Also, they succeeded in creating a comfortable environment where they really didn’t even want to, and it backfired on them and me. There weren’t many people in there either time I was there. I don’t think this is a coincidence. There’s no place so uncomfortable as a mock-comfortable one. This is like your stuffy aunts house who put so much effort into putting things in just the right place that you don’t dare touch anything, even though it was all put there for some sort of twisted sense of creating an environment in the first place.

    There’s nothing wrong with hard chairs, bright lights, etc, but figure out what kind of place you’re running and don’t leave your patrons confused about it. Even if they aren’t comfortable in an absolute sense, they’ll be comfortable that they’re doing it right, so to speak, and doing what’s expected of them as a customer.

    In Minnesota, there’s Caribou Coffee. It’s almost exactly like Starbucks, but a bit more rustic, and local. No experience necessary. Easy menu. Superficial friendliness without feeling like a coffee cult. Safe choices for kids, sugar addicts, and non-coffee drinkers. They picked their audience: Starbuck’s. Didn’t make bones about it. And it worked. If they were the least bit confused about who they were or what they were doing, this would have failed.

    You cannot bully your staff into being happy. The closest you can get to that is telling them nicely that they need to have a good day every day or else they can’t work there and leaving the decision to them. But I don’t think that’s optimal either. Words fail here. Go into the LUX and order a latte. You can’t buy, beg, or bully that kind of connection to the product.

    Sorry to harp on about the LUX. I know there are other great places in town. I could name a few too but it’s tangent to the point. It’s just where I’ve mostly been lately.


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  29. Heh, completely failed to notice this was an old thread. Ooops. Someone just linked to it from Twitter.

    Oh well.


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  30. It’s old but as Coffee Plantation is now out and about on twitter asking how they could be improved, it is WAY more relevant than it was when it was posted.

  31. Scott. Thank you for your insightful and assertive way to describe the coffee house business. Coffee plantation had a fair chance being the first local coffee house chain. The result of the passion of the original owners leaving the business formula was a pretty good contributor to there demise. There still a chance for anybody to start again, I hope they do.

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  33. AZBeagleSquad

    I like Coffee Plantation because they had soda, not just coffee, but their coffee was pretty good!!!