Oregon coffee pioneer Jim Roberts, the co-founder of the iconic chain Coffee People who is often credited with opening coffee’s first drive-through, died Monday. He was 74.
“There’s a hole in our hearts after yesterday’s passing of Jim Roberts,” Jim & Patty’s Coffee People, the brand that succeeded Coffee People in Portland, announced yesterday on Instagram. “Yeah… that Jim. Buck Tiger himself made Heaven his home and the only thing that can make our loss feel lighter is his continued legacy and the love he left for everyone.”
It was in 1972 that newlyweds Jim and Patty Roberts tasted their first fresh-roasted coffees at Jeff Ferguson’s The Coffee Bean (later to become Coffee Bean International). Roberts then went to work for Ferguson before he and Patty opened their own coffee shop in Portland called The Coffee Man (later to become Coffee People) in 1976.
The Coffee People chain eventually grew to dozens of stores throughout Portland and other cities throughout the U.S., becoming an early challenger to Starbucks while earning legendary status regionally.
“Coffee People was known for its lively atmosphere, chalk-written signs, and collectable travel mugs,” The Oregonian wrote in a 2016 piece on Portland coffee culture. “For many Portlanders, this was the first place they tried lattes, mochas and other espresso drinks. The company’s logos featured a drawing of the owners, along with the slogan ‘Good coffee, no backtalk.'”
In 1990, Jim and Patty opened the first Motor Moka location. While the shop has been cited as the first drive-through coffee shop in the U.S., it is described by Jim & Patty’s as “one of the first.” By all accounts, it paved the way for drive-through-focused competitors such as Dutch Bros.
After an IPO in 1995 and ensuing troubles scaling the business, Jim and Patty sold Coffee People to former Canada-based Second Cup subsidiary Gloria Jean’s in 1997, which then sold the chain to California-based Diedrich Coffee Inc. in 1998. Diedrich would eventually sell its retail locations to Starbucks.
After the conclusion of a five-year non-compete clause, Jim and Patty got back in the coffee game in 2002, opening Jim & Patty’s Coffee People and growing to four locations around Portland.
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