What: Black Rock Coffee Bar

What it does: Roasts and sells coffee at drive-thru and sit-down retail shops

Pictured: CEO Jeff Hernandez

Where: 616 NW Arizona Ave.

Employees: approximately 750

Website: http://br.coffee/

A chain with 45 shops in five states, Black Rock Coffee Bar will open its first Bend location in the Robal Village shopping center next spring.

CEO Jeff Hernandez said he spent several years trying to land the right spot in Bend, a city he’s starting to know well since moving here a year ago from the Portland area. Hernandez, 37, is one of four Black Rock corporate staff members who work out of a small office on Arizona Avenue, across the street from Strictly Organic Coffee Co. and down the road from a Starbucks. Hernandez said his firm competed with Starbucks for the nearby Sisemore Street location.

“They are so ubiquitous, and yet there’s no true competitor,” Hernandez said of the coffee giant. “We’re hoping to make a dent in our little part of the world, for sure.”

Black Rock, founded in 2008 in Beaverton, has most of its operations in the Portland area. Co-founder Daniel Brand oversees operations while Hernandez, who said he’s wanted to live in Bend for the past decade, leads what he calls the “incursion side” of the business.

Hernandez and his team focus on securing new locations and opening the stores.

Black Rock, which has locations in Washington, California and Arizona, recently opened its fourth store in Boise, he said. He expects to grow to 60 locations over the next 12 months.

Hernandez sat down with The Bulletin to discuss Black Rock’s history and future. The interview has been edited for length and content.

Q: You and your co-founders began by building drive-thru coffee shacks to compete with Dutch Bros. but eventually realized the real competition is Starbucks. How do you set yourself apart?

A: We’re hyper-local, hyper-connected. A little bit more friendly face, and we’re quicker. Starbucks can sometimes feel like jazz. Dutch Bros. is Sublime. We almost kind of try to be that Top 40 vibe. It’s more that ambiance, the type of music that’s played, the type of atmosphere.

Q: What’s behind the name Black Rock?

A: We wanted to come up with a name that didn’t have much meaning. If it did grow, we would be able to give it meaning. We got a list of several names, eight names on a piece of paper. We went out to dinner and asked the server, ‘Which one sticks out to you?’ Eight out of 10 picked Black Rock. There’s so many black rocks. It’s fairly generic, and it’s a combination of two words that has a different meaning (to each person).

Q: How are you turning out drinks faster than Starbucks?

A: It’s almost less about the actual time as it is the perception of time for the customer, the feeling of urgency. We have a (point of sale) system that actually allows us to do something similar to Chick-Fil-A and In-N-Out (Burger). We can send someone out and take someone’s order and charge them. For the customer, it feels very fast. It’s always a fusion of quality, speed and customer service. Those are always in tension. You have to have all three. We call that the flow.

Q: What were you doing before Black Rock?

A: My dad owned a construction company in southern Oregon. I was either going to join him and buy that someday, or do something else. What’s a business I could pour myself into that would be fun? Coffee, again, it’s an emotional connection people have. I was drawn more to that type of business. Daniel, my partner, him and his brother, Jeremy Brand, their family had a company called Oregon Mountain Coffee Co. in Medford. They had that for 15 years. Jeremy’s been roasting for 25 years. They had the coffee experience and operational experience. That’s why we work very well together.

Q: Where do you see the company in five years?

A: I see us in five to 10 or seven to 10 states, I would say on the West Coast. Finding better and better ways to connect with the community and be the go-to coffee shop for as many people as we can.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

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