‘Spreading the Luv’
Dan and Michal Richardson bring Dutch Bros.—and smiles— to Chico
Dan Richardson vividly recalls the moment he discovered Dutch Bros.—not only because it wound up changing his life, but also because of all the history it entailed.
In March 1992, Richardson was driving to work in Grants Pass, Ore., at “the most conservative savings and loan ever known to mankind,” when he noticed across the street a pushcart with two guys under a blue tarp.
“I had no idea what they were doing,” he told the CN&R. “I didn’t know if they were selling breakfast burritos or hot dogs or what it was.”
Turns out, that was the first day Dane and Travis Boersma, dairy-farming brothers of Dutch descent, had brought their new coffee venture out of their family barn into downtown.
Richardson didn’t make a detour that day, but they caught his attention—and continued to do so as they amped up their intensity and started making a name for themselves.
“They were blasting out classic rock tunes and making it a party every morning,” he said. “It caught the town by storm, and it just grew from there.”
For the next 10 years, Richardson stayed at his buttoned-down bank job as Dutch Bros. expanded to four dozen locations across Oregon. But then, wanting to be close to family in the North State, he moved to Chico. Richardson got accepted to Butte College’s fire academy; newly married and knowing he’d need a more immediate income stream for himself and his wife, Michal, he drew inspiration from home.
Nine months later, in June 2003, the Richardsons opened the first Dutch Bros. outside Oregon, on East Park Avenue.
“I wish I could say I had some grand plan,” Richardson said. “It just kind of fell into place. I had no idea that it would turn into something I could support my family doing. After being open six months, I got my taxes done and went, ‘Well, huh, I think we could actually make a living doing this.’”
They now own four stores in Chico, including their newest at Humboldt Avenue and Wall Street, which opened in July 2016. Richardson manages the enterprise—which employs 160—out of an office on Meyers Street. He and Michal also own the car wash next to their original Dutch Bros., which they opened with partners they’ve since bought out.
“Looking back, it was almost reckless abandon,” Richardson reflected. “‘Let’s just go for it and see what sticks.’ I knew how much I loved the Dutch Bros. culture from being around it in Grants Pass; I’d seen nothing like it in Chico. There also was really no name recognition in Chico [for Dutch Bros.] at the time, so I had no idea what to expect.”
That’s changed, now that that company has over 260 locations in seven states—and a reputation around the North State. Another franchisee has stores in neighboring communities (Paradise, Oroville and Orland); Dutch Bros. Chico, the Richardsons’ business, collaborates with them on charitable and promotional ventures.
Haley Jones has worked for the Richardsons for nearly 10 years. She joined Dutch Bros. Chico with the inaugural team for the Cohasset store, which opened the day after Christmas 2007; she’s been a manager going on eight years and overseen the Esplanade store the past three months.
She applied because her roommate at the time worked at Dutch Bros. and Jones needed a job while attending Chico State. The place fit her so well that she decided to drop out, forgo a career in construction management and instead devote herself full time what the parent company calls “spreading the Dutch Luv.”
“You come here and it feels different than going somewhere else, coffee or not coffee,” she said, taking a few minutes from preparing drinks on a recent morning. “The values of the company were what I could not walk away from. They have always encouraged us to take the skills that we learn here and use them in whatever we want to do someday, and I guess for me, helping people learn that process and going through what I went through is what I want to do.”
What makes the work environment distinct, she said, is interpersonal interaction: co-worker to co-worker, barista to patron. Most employees are friends—many live together—and develop friendships with customers by engaging in genuine conversations.
Of course, free coffee doesn’t hurt. Bro-istas (as the baristas are called) need to keep up a fast pace, and the vibe hasn’t changed from the Boersma’s first stand: music, energy, cheer. Richardson doesn’t charge his employees for their drinks, a perk Jones says is not universal among franchisees.
“We have fun every day coming to work,” she said. “You’re hanging out with your friends, whether that’s your co-workers or your customers or both. I think sometimes people think we’re faking it … but it’s pretty much as good as it gets.”
The company stresses relationship-oriented service, but Richardson says that credo goes beyond the basic business practice of knowing a customer so well that the team can predict his or her order. He cited an example that’s stuck with him several years after it happened.
An older gentleman began coming to the Esplanade store on a regular basis. He was gruff, taciturn. Though his demeanor was off-putting, one bro-ista “made it his mission” to connect with the customer.
“It turns out the reason he was coming through was because his wife had terminal cancer at Enloe,” Richardson said. “Our employee got him to open up and made a relationship there. His wife did end up passing on, and as a shop we did send him a card and a gift. Still, to this day, he comes through.
“That’s one of many, many stories like that. Having babies at the hospital, too—it’s the highs and lows of life. It’s just so cool to have that effect.”
More than he first imagined.
“I knew how relational Dutch Bros. was … I had no idea how big an impact we could have on a community just by serving coffee through a window.”