Liset Marquez, Staff Writer for Press Telegram
LOS ANGELES - For two decades, Klatch coffeehouses have been an Inland Empire secret.
A place where customers could enjoy more than just a dark cup of joe but where they could taste award-winning espressos from a two-time barista champion.
Klatch customers can stop by any one of its coffeehouses - in Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and San Dimas - for their daily caffeine fix.
But in the past couple of months, it has added a new location - in Terminal 7 of Los Angeles International Airport.
The leap in the Los Angeles market is significant for the family-owned company because it also introduces their brand to the rest of the world.
Klatch LAX, which opened on Dec. 5, is the first shop travelers see when they walk into Terminal 7. It has a modern, relaxing interior similar to the company's existing locations, says Mike Perry, Klatch's owner and CEO.
"It's a bit overwhelming and yet exciting at the same time. We are all about making wonderful, great coffees for people to share, and this is more people to share with," he said.
And even though this is the biggest venture for the coffeehouse, which is embarking on its 20-year anniversary, it has been busy the past couple of years.
The company opened two locations - Ontario in 2010 and LAX in 2012 - and has launched a new website. Heather Perry, Mike's daughter who helps oversee the business operations of the company, led a redesign of the company logo and packaging.
Quality over quantity
Mike, with the help of his wife, Cindy, opened the Rancho Cucamonga location in October 1993. With the help of his daughters, Heather and Holly, the company has continued to grow.
Through the years, the family has remained hands-on in the company's operations.
Heather is known for creating specially drinks and helps generate the seasonal selections. Her concoctions earned her first place at the U.S. Barista Championship in 2003 and 2007.
Mike Perry prides himself on traveling to different countries such as Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama and tasting for himself what he will be bringing back to his roasting company.
From January through April, he travels to the farms to taste which beans are the best. By May or June, those selections are inside one of the four coffeehouse locations ready for enjoy.
"We're not looking to be the next Starbucks and open a thousand stores," he said. "When you grow, it can become just about numbers, I want it to still be about the coffee. It's always been about quality products."
In recent years, to help bring their coffee experience closer to the customer, the company has offered workshops at their headquarters in Upland. Heather said they have even created workshop themes based on people's requests.
The workshop have varied from the "BYOB" - brew your own brewer - roasting demonstrations, cupping and tasting, and even creating their own latte art.
"People want to know more about what they are consuming," Heather said.
Creating a brand
For years, customers and business entrepreneurs had begged for the specialty coffee providers to expand into the greater Los Angeles region.
Through the years, Perry has for years refused to expand because he wanted to ensure the product and customer service was not affected. Coffee Klatch has received site proposals, but he said the plans didn't fit with the company's direction.
About three years ago, a customer in their Rancho Cucamonga shop introduced the Perry's to Crews of California, a retailer at LAX. Mike and Heather Perry both say they grappled with the decision to expand.
After learning more about that company, they decided to move forward with an expansion.
"Ultimately, everything is a customer-service business, and you have to have that at the forefront of your mind," Heather said.
The Klatch LAX location which employs 40 people, nearly doubles all of Klatch's staff. During the height of the holiday season, the coffeehouse was serving about 1,200 people a day and in early January, it reported serving about 1,000 a day.
"Obviously speed and service is an issue at an airport, and a No. 1 priority, and how do you that without sacrificing quality?" says Heather.
So the Perrys took everything from existing stores and made it bigger. The counter at LAX looks similar to the one you might find in San Dimas except that it is longer, which allows room for two espresso machines, three registers and a team that handles food.
"When somebody comes to the register, this is our chance to kind of talk to you, and this is our chance to represent the brand. We didn't want to cut that time short by rushing someone," Heather said.
Once the layout of the store had been configured, Heather and Mike worked on what they said was the most important part of the expansion: training.
Training started four months before the opening date for managers and three months for staff. All those hours weren't just spent training employees how to make the coffee, either.
"The nice thing is our brand is embedded in this," Heather said. "It was: here's who Klatch is, here's what you are part of, and here's what you want to represent when you're working."
The training was at the three existing locations. Even though they gave staff a week off from the practice about half of them came in on their own time. They made the trip from the Los Angeles area into the Inland Empire just to keep up on their skills, she said.
It's that dedication that Mike and Heather credit as the initial success of the LAX location.
"We have so many regulars here now, airport employees and everyday staff," Heather said.
LAX is going through renovations. A total of 59 eateries and shops - in four out of the the nine terminals at the airport - replace existing options, said Nancy Castles, a spokeswoman for the airport.
Those improvements are part of a larger project LAX has developed for new dining and retail at the new Tom Bradley International Terminal. Duty Free Shops will feature wines from several local wineries, including San Antonio Winery, which has a location in Ontario.
Crews of California is also responsible for bringing in the organic restaurant Lemonade to Terminal 5.
"A major focus of our customer service improvements is to create a cohesive, memorable and high-quality dining and shopping experience with a variety of new and innovative options that offer a `sense of place' reflecting the culture, cuisine and trends of the Los Angeles metropolitan region, including popular Klatch Coffee and San Antonio Winery from the Inland Empire," said Gina Marie Lindsey, the executive director of Los Angeles World Airports.
But actually opening the store is another story, and a completely new one for the Perrys. For starters, they had to work with a construction timeline that was beyond their control, the duo recalled.
Klatch actually embarked on the business about three years ago, when it first met with representatives from Crews of California.
"We were excited about our concept, and I was less concerned about our brand because they cared about our brand as much as we did. So it's nice to have a partner that cares," Mike said.
Initial plans called for the airport coffeehouse to open in early 2012 but that date was pushed back month after month because of construction. When it came to actually opening, there was a span of two weeks they were given seven different opening days.
"It was very anticlimactic," Heather says about the big day.
Things have calmed down since the opening, says Heather.
"Within a minute there was a line out there. As far as everyone else was concerned, you have been here forever. For them, we could have been here for 10 years. They had no idea it was our first hour of being open," she said.
Heather laughed as she recounted the experience, "it was chaos, overstaffed and understaffed. People didn't know what positions they needed to be in."
Klatch LAX is one of the largest in the company. The base of the coffeehouse is 1,600 square feet, but it "borrowed" terminal space from United Airlines to provide the communal table space.
Without that extra space and an additional five feet from the airport, it would have been difficult for Klatch to emulate the atmosphere of their other shops, Mike said.
"I want (travelers) to have a great experience," he said. "To those who are new to Klatch, I want them to realize how good a cup of coffee can taste. So often people think coffee is the same but to have them taste (our coffee) and say `Wow, I never knew coffee could be so good.' That's what I want to be able to see."
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