Moxie Java once ruled the Treasure Valley. New owners look to regain its glory

After Ryan and Julie Stewart moved to Middleton from Wyoming five years ago, they discovered Moxie Java. They began buying coffee drinks at the company’s shops in Nampa and Caldwell nearly every day. Ryan especially liked the Milkee Way, a mocha punched up with caramel syrup.

The couple later approached the owners about opening a franchise shop but were unable to reach a deal. They liked the company so much, though, that they bought it all, last fall.

“Over the years, we had supported them heavily — buying more drinks than we should have,” Ryan Stewart said. “We saw the listing come on, and I sent Julie the link and said, ‘That’s a cool company with a really great history.’”

The couple has operated a number of businesses in Idaho and Wyoming, from coin-operated vending machines to a tire shop, from a shaved-ice truck to a car wash. And now a coffee company.

“We were at a stage with our properties and our other business that we were ready for a change,” he said.

Moxie Java has 15 coffee shops in the Treasure Valley. This one at 4990 W. Chinden Blvd., is one of two owned by the company. The rest are operated by individual owners. John Sowell

The Stewarts operate two company-owned coffee shops, one attached to Moxie Java’s headquarters at 4990 W. Chinden Blvd. and another one at 6625 N. Glenwood St., both in Garden City. They also own a coffee roaster and a warehouse attached to the headquarters.

The rest of Moxie Java’s 13 coffee houses in Idaho, and four others in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Carolina, are franchises with individual owners.

The company’s coffee is also served at Bronco football games at Albertsons Stadium and on the Boise State University campus.

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.

“They were here before any Starbucks, before any Dutch Bros, before Flying M, before Human Bean.” Ryan Stewart said.

“They had the first espresso machine in Boise,” Julie Stewart said.

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. Rick and Stephanie Dean bought the company in 2001. Rick Dean said his goal was to have Moxie Java recognized “just like Starbucks.”

When Rick Dean died in July 2017, his widow decided to sell the company.

Ryan Stewart, co-owner of Moxie Java, stands in front of the company’s coffee air roaster. It operates almost like an air popcorn popper, Stewart said, keeping the beans suspended in air while hot air roasts them. John Sowell

The Stewarts, who bought it last September, declined to say how much they paid for the company. It was listed for $599,000 in November 2017.

The couple had lunch with founders Roberts and Binion and have spoken to Eberharter by phone.

“The founders were really into hospitality, and that’s something we’re really into as well,” Julie Stewart said. “Recognizing customers’ faces and making them feel comfortable and building relationships with one another are important to us.”

The couple have spent the past few months getting to know their employees and franchise operators. They have updated the software system that keeps track of their coffee inventory, and they’ve drawn down the inventory to ensure that the roasted beans sit for shorter periods on a shelf before being ground.

“We’re roasting more frequently and we’re roasting smaller batches,” Ryan Stewart said. “Our goal is that it’s in the consumer’s hands within two weeks and it’s really fresh.”

The company is looking to expand but not aiming to become the Treasure Valley’s largest coffee company. Ryan Stewart said he would like to speak to some former franchise operators and entice them into rebranding with Moxie Java.

“We’re focused on making sure we have really good business partners,” he said. “We want to be the best.”

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.