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Coneheads drive-through espresso changing name and lowering prices

The King has left the building.

Coneheads, recognized for more than five years by its life-size Elvis monument attached to the upper half of the drive-through espresso stand at the corner of Washington Street and Third Avenue, has a new name and appearance. The Elvis statue was removed and the exterior repainted white to better represent the business's "white cup" theme. Renamed White Cup Espresso, employees are serving customers' beverages in plain white cups with decorative sleeves.

Doing so, said co-owner Chris Valerio, along with other money-saving measures such as eliminating the customer loyalty reward-card system, allows management to sell drinks for as much as 30-40 percent less than before.

The old-fashioned Chevrolet replicas adorning the building will stay in place but a new sign and menu boards will be hung, as well as a large signature white cup to replace Elvis.

Lower prices don't mean lower quality, assured co-owner Kim Farrell. In fact, the company recently upgraded to a higher quality frappe mix and is increasing the number of shots per drink.

Beverages are made using the same coffee brand, Dillanos Coffee Roasters.

"We are giving the rewards up front," Valerio explained. "I'm banking on the fact that coffee drinkers will appreciate the lower costs and higher quality drinks and double the quantity (of drinks they purchase)."

The reason for the changes is simple, according to the owners. "Every time a new competitor comes to town I have to find ways to compensate," Valerio said. "It's been working but lately we haven't been seeing some of our regular customers as much."

"We started wondering what we were doing wrong or if the quality of our drinks had slipped," he continued, "but when we started asking people they told us they just can't afford (to buy) as much coffee anymore."

So, the brother and sister pair put their heads together and came up with a solution - lower the prices of drinks to better accommodate strained pocketbooks.

"People in the industry say never cheapen your product or say 'discount,' but I think times have changed," Valerio said. "Everybody has been riding on the coattails of the Starbucks craze and think that if they want to open their own business that they can do it in espresso."

That's not the case, according to Valerio. "Look at Starbucks in Port Angeles," he said. "If they had to close, anybody could."

Initially, management tried to increase business by distributing coupons into the community. Afterward, hundreds of coupons were used to purchase beverages, confirming the suspicion that coffee has simply become a luxury due to the economic situation, Valerio said.

Valerio and Farrell owned and operated a one-hour photo business in Bellevue before moving to Sequim almost six years ago. During the "digital revolution," the partners implemented a similar business plan - offering lower prices to encourage regular customers to print more photos and lure in new clients - that was met with much success, Farrell shared.

Since the announcement that the business is changing its name and lowering prices, customers who used to frequent the drive-through once, sometimes twice a day, have returned, she added optimistically.

"We figure it will either fly or die," Valerio said. "My gut tells me the time is right and I think the community will be very satisfied."

Valerio said he's interested how other drive-through stands and coffeehouses will react. "We want to be a trendsetter and if that means everybody has to lower their prices, the coffee drinkers will only benefit," he said. "This could be the future of espresso drive-through: to have lower prices."

If the changes are well received, Valerio and Farrell are planning to open additional drive-through espresso stands in Port Angeles and Port Townsend.

"I'm not trying to cause an uproar among our competition, just trying to adjust to the economy," Valerio said. "I'm actually excited about it. After five-and-a-half years, it's easy to get in a rut, but reinventing ourselves is exciting."

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