Woods Coffee has become a Whatcom County favorite since its first stores opened in 2002. Today the homegrown brand owned by Wes Herman and his family is showing no signs of slowing down. There are 19 Woods Coffee stores in the Pacific Northwest – 15 in Whatcom County (9 in Bellingham), two in Skagit County, one in King County (hello, Bellevue) and one in Delta, British Columbia.
Herman was a traveling salesman in the coffee industry until 2002, when he decided he would like to be a larger part of the industry. “We started the company as a homeschool project to teach our four kids how to start a business,” he said. “We hoped they would love it so much that we could work together for a long time as we grew this new brand.”
The Hermans thought a Woods Coffee chain, with a warmer, more inviting atmosphere and more comfortable setting would have many positive impacts on the community. They were right – it was a pivotal moment that would indelibly change the coffee landscape in Whatcom County.
Herman’s daughter Natalie runs the front desk at their home office and it was her idea to call the company Woods Coffee. “She felt it embodied the Pacific Northwest, along with the architectural elements that make the stores look like the outdoors,” he said. Daughter Kelly is the company’s chief operating officer and son Taylor Herman is responsible for designing and building the Woods Coffee locations.
“A lot goes into this process,” Herman reflected. “The spaces are designed and created for people to enjoy, so we have to make sure we understand what they enjoy. What makes us different is the way we care for the guest. We want them to stay and enjoy their experience so we look for ways to keep people comfortable, not just turn the table.”
Woods Coffee shops boast gas fireplaces and river rock mantles and accents, open beams, comfy leather sofas and a homespun feeling. The Boulevard location boasts artwork by local artist Brian Griffin, while the Flatiron store features pictures from local photographers, as does the Barkley location, with some large canvas prints. “We encourage art in many forms,” says Herman, adding the tile mural at the Barkley location speaks to the unique abilities of the county’s local artists.
The store at Boulevard Park, which opened in 2007, is one of his personal highlights and a great source of pride. It’s the first Woods Coffee shop with a private conference room for up to 12, featuring leather high back chairs, a 42-inch monitor and computer hookups for corporate presentations.
“It’s the most spectacular coffee shop anywhere in the United States,” Herman says. “And it’s certainly one of the most loved locations by locals and those who visit. Where else could you find such a beautiful coffee shop that is 10 feet from the Pacific Ocean! I still can’t believe we have the privilege to occupy this historic building and serve the park-goers every day!”
Coffee, of course, is the main focus for Woods Coffee and the Hermans source from farms using sustainable agricultural practices, most of them using organic best practices and paying a rate higher than Fair Trade.
“The coffee we source only comes from the best regions, near the equator at a specific elevation, to ensure that only the best beans make it into our stores,” he said. Loyal patrons love the fact that the coffee is good, the food is great and there’s a hometown feel in the store, a stark contrast to Starbucks’ corporate ‘feel.’
When the company was still in its infancy it sourced food from local bakeries, soup and sandwich shops. That changed in 2008 when the Hermans built their own bakery to serve what was then ten stores. “Starting our own bakery allowed us to make what we want, make things with ingredients you can pronounce and serve it fresh to our stores daily,” he said.
“What a huge leap for our company! Not only was this one of the hardest things for us to pull off, it’s been one of the best things we’ve done in our company’s history. The menu has grown over time and now includes lots of options for different times of the day.” It’s no easy feat running 19 store locations, but when Herman needs a break you’ll find him sipping an Americano Misto when it’s cold out and a Cold Brew on a hot day. Another menu staple is ‘Wes’ favorite granola.’ “I eat that at least 300 days a year,” he says.