Business

They fed Boise’s coffee thirst before Starbucks and Dutch Bros. Now they’re up for sale

Moxie Java earns customer loyalty

Mark Rinehart says he's been coming to Moxie Java every day for more than 15 years, brought in by the coffee and the friendly staff.
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Mark Rinehart says he's been coming to Moxie Java every day for more than 15 years, brought in by the coffee and the friendly staff.

Mark Rinehart sat at a table in the Moxie Java in the Vista Village shopping center Tuesday morning, sipping a cup of black coffee and reading the newspaper.

For Rinehart, who lives nearby, visiting Moxie Java has been a daily ritual for a decade and a half. He is loyal to the brand, which has operated in the Treasure Valley since 1988.

“The coffee tastes a lot better than Starbucks,” he said.

Customers like Rinehart helped propel the Garden City coffee chain to 70 stores nationwide by 2001. It was voted Best Coffeehouse in the Statesman’s annual Best of Treasure Valley list for years.

But Moxie is no longer the powerhouse it once was. In 2011, the company began replacing the licensing of its brand with a franchise business model, causing some licensees to drop the brand. New expansion plans faltered. Today, with just 16 locations in Southern Idaho and three in other states, Moxie Java is up for sale.

Arthur Berry & Co. has the business listed for $599,000 after a price cut from $790,500. That includes two company-owned shops, the roasting operation, franchise and store-licensing system, and a distribution network for sales of packaged coffee online and two retail stores.

Berry’s listing does not name Moxie Java, and neither listing agent Brent Bungard nor Moxie Java owner Stephanie Dean returned calls seeking comment. However, certain details in the listing give the company away: The owner, “after more than a decade of ownership,” is looking to retire. The brand is well-known and won “community-favorite awards for many years.” The business has a food-safety certification held in Idaho by only one coffee roaster: Moxie Java.

A co-owner dies

Berry’s listing said the owner wants to retire. Co-owner Rick Dean died in July. Dean and his wife, Stephanie, bought Moxie Java in 2001. They previously operated a family farm in Grangeville growing growing wheat, barley and lentils.

The last time the company won Best Coffeehouse was in 2013. Dutch Bros. has topped the list three of the past four years, with Flying M winning in 2015.

Moxie Java dominated the local coffee scene before Seattle-based Starbucks rolled into town in 1998 and Dutch Bros arrived in 2007 from Grants Pass, Oregon. At its peak, Moxie even had a location in Japan.

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Jenny Simmons serves a cup of coffee at the Moxie Java on Chinden Boulevard in 2010. Nearly 70 stores nationwide still carried the Moxie name then, half of them in Idaho. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Robin Hanford, who owns the Vista Village franchise, had observed a previous Moxie on Vista near a Blimpie sandwich shop for which her family had long held a franchise. When she got a chance a year and a half ago to move the Blimpie to a corner location with a drive-thru, she added Moxie Java to it.

“I’ve been a fan of the Moxie Java concept for a long time,” Hanford said. “They really pay attention to the roasting process, and I liked that they were local.”

Hanford praises the Deans’ handling of the company. She doesn’t expect new owners to change much. “I think they’ll maintain the flavor of Moxie Java,” she said.

Some customers addicted to Moxie

Barista Anna Long worked at the other shop when it changed from Moxie Java to Caffe Capri and several regulars quit coming, she said. She said they returned when the current Moxie Java opened.

“I really like the relationships we have with our customers,” she said.

Moxie Java 031 customers
Soft, comfortable chairs encourage customers at Moxie Java at Vista Village to stay. The shop has a large cadre of regular customers, owner Robin Hanford said. John Sowell jsowell@idahostatesman.com

Jerome Eberharter founded Moxie Java in 1988, along with John Roberts and Chris Binion, who at the time ran the Downtown Boise restaurant Le Poulet Rouge. Eberharter then was the CEO of White Cloud Coffee, a Boise roaster.

Eberharter eventually bought out his partners. In 2001, he decided to refocus on White Cloud Coffee, which then reported sales of $4 million a year. Moxie Java had reported sales of $1 million the previous year. The Deans bought it. Rick Dean said his goal was to have Moxie Java recognized “just like Starbucks.”

In 2012, Jason Wilson, who had just bought four Moxie Java shops in Meridian, Fruitland and Ontario, withdrew from the company and rebranded his shops as Big Star Coffee. Wilson said the Deans wanted him to sign a franchise agreement, which would have resulted in him paying more fees to Moxie than under his licensing agreement.

In 2013, seven Moxie Java shops in Boise switched to Caffe Capri, licensed by Seattle-based Caffé D’arte. Six other shops began selling under the Lucky Peak Coffee brand.

Who will buy?

The Berry listing solicits either entrepreneurs “passionate about the category” and able to run multiple businesses, or other coffee roasters or chains seeking to expand through acquisition. The Statesman sought to ask Dutch Bros. if it is interested. The company did not return a request for comment.

Sales total $1.8 million a year, according to the Berry listing.

Eberharter said good coffee is essential to Moxie’s survival.

“I hope that whoever does end up buying it appreciates good coffee and really makes that the pivotal experience for customers,” Eberharter told the Statesman this week. He now lives in Soda Springs.

Rinehart, the longtime Vista customer, said he doesn’t care who takes over, “as long as the coffee remains the same.”

The Berry listing was first reported by BoiseDev.com.

Moxie Java shops in the Treasure Valley

4990 W. Chinden Blivd., Garden City

6625 N. Glenwood St., Garden City

Boise State University, 1910 University Drive

1118 S. Vista Ave., Boise

1560 N. Locust Grove Road, Meridian

1575 N. Linder Road, Kuna

3603 Garrity Blvd., Nampa

3183 E. Greenhurst Road, Nampa

2408 12th Ave., Nampa

2201 N. Cassia St., Nampa

2904 E. Cleveland Blvd., Caldwell

618 N. 10th Ave., Caldwell

404 U.S. Highway 95, Homedale

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