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'Sexpresso' coffee chains brew up new segment

Baristas Coffee Co. joins flurry of costume-themed java stands

Baristas Coffee Co. Inc., a small chain of drive-thru espresso stands featuring female employees in skimpy costumes, said its new flagship store in Kent, Wash., has already begun to generate positive cash flow and contribute to the bottom line.

Pink sheets-traded BCCI was formerly known as Innovative Communications Technologies. Its coffee business is operated by a majority-controlled company called Pangea Networks Inc.

BCCI has a total of six company-owned locations in Washington state, two of which were converted from Java Girls stores that BCCI acquired last year along with Java Girls International Inc. and the affiliated Stevens Coffee Co. LLC and Michaels Coffee Co. LLC.

Without providing any sales or profit details, officials of the SeaTac, Wash.-based company said they were able to get the new store up and running within 17 days of completing the real estate transaction.

“Sales increased steadily from the first day [Sept. 13] and by the second week had risen to a sustainable level such that it will contribute to our bottom line,” said Barry Henthorn, BCCI chief executive. “We expect to have returned our initial capital outlay required to remodel and open the location within 90 days and look forward to continuing to attract additional clientele.”

Part of the so-called “sexpresso” business, Baristas Coffee Co. has said it wants to become a national chain by acquiring existing businesses that meet its operational and site requirements. Officials said they have no plans to franchise. Baristas’ menu features brewed coffees, espresso drinks and blended teas, along with seasonal beverages such as hot cider or frozen caffeinated beverages, smoothies, pastries and other confections.

Company officials said an additional revenue stream would come from the sale of branded merchandise, such as calendars, mugs, t-shirts and hats.

Cowgirls Espresso of Arlington, Wash., which fields bikini and theme-costume-wearing female employees at 12 “stands” operated by franchisor Cowgirls Franchising LLCA and another 10 by franchisees, has a large line of branded merchandise.

Another Baristas Coffee Co. regional competitor, three-unit Chicka Latte Beautiful Coffee of Seattle, partners with a clothing company to sell the lingerie and provocative costumes worn by its staff.

Baristas Coffee Co. says it “employs and promotes attractive female baristas trained to interact with the customers to maximize sales as well as prepare the finest beverages available.” The company said the employees “wear constantly changing and appealing costumes, allowing for customers to enjoy the anticipation of a fun, creative, new, and intriguing experience every day.”

But there also is a tawdry side to the sexpresso business, as some operators or their employees have been known to take the concept too far.

In September 2009, local law enforcement officials in Everett, Wash., arrested five female baristas from Grab-N-Go Espresso and charged them with prostitution and violations of the city’s adult entertainment ordinance. Shortly thereafter, Cowgirls Espresso chief executive Jesse Molnick issued a press release condemning such illicit behavior.

“It’s unfortunate but necessary, and we are supportive of stricter guidelines for stands that need to use extreme tactics to lure customers as a replacement of an inferior coffee product and a lack of moral values in customer service,” Molnick wrote at the time.

And not all who try their hand at the business serve markets that appreciate the service point of distinction.

Don Emborsky, who for a time operated a licensed Java Girls coffee hut in Carson City, Nev., recently told the Nevada Appeal newspaper he had converted the business to a family-friendly train station theme. Business had fallen off in the recession, he said, and many people had told him they would not support a business that was sexual in nature.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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