Central Florida-based Foxtail Coffee Co. is opening a new cafe in Carrollwood on Saturday and another one in Temple Terrace by the University of South Florida next month.
And the cafe company is already planning for more.
Foxtail Coffee, which was founded in Winter Park in 2016, announced it aims to open more than 30 locations in the Tampa Bay area within the next five years as it seeks to scale as a Florida-based coffee brand across the state. It already has more than 50 locations across Florida and Georgia, including two cafes in Riverview and St. Petersburg.
“If you look at the burger world, those markets are very saturated with respect to having your fast food and then you have your Smashburger, BurgerFi and so forth,” said Foxtail Coffee founder and president Alex Tchekmeian. “In coffee, we don’t really have a premium brand that is scalable yet.”
Ahead of the openings at 10907 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood and 7021 E. Fletcher Ave., Tchekmeian spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about why the brand is focusing on Tampa Bay and how it tries to stand out from both local and national coffee shops.
How did Foxtail Coffee get started?
I’ve been in the music business for the last 20 years. Oftentimes we served artists who were stadium and arena touring for all their merchandise needs. I would travel all over the world, and in the mornings I would work out of whatever cool cafe was in the city we were in. As I started to travel less with the company I fell in love with the idea of having a coffee shop in Winter Park where I’ve lived the last 15 years.
In December 2016, we opened the first location in Winter Park and the idea was really just to have one singular location where we could focus on high quality premium craft beverages. I travel to a lot of roasters and cafes throughout North America and the vast majority of them were either roasting and not having a retail presence or they have a retail presence and they work with a local roaster to purchase beans.
A lot of what we wanted to do was open a cafe that had a good retail presence, cafe atmosphere, but also roasted everything in house and sourced all the beans. And so we opened one and ultimately that was really the goal. It became really successful overnight and then we opened a second, third and a fourth and just continued on. We love the idea of expanding but are also remaining true to kind of what the roots of the brand currently are.
Why an emphasis on retail for a coffee shop?
We’re very focused on experience and that’s one of the things that really sets us apart.
One of the other things really interesting in a coffee space right now is everyone continues to shrink in terms of the retail square footage going toward drive-thru or grab-and-go. It’s the opposite direction in which we want to focus.
We want to build a community atmosphere and welcome guests so that there’s somewhere for everybody to meet, go have a date, have a meeting, whatever the case may be. Whereas the big guys right now are going towards drive-thru only mechanism which doesn’t really create an experience and so you’ll see the big square footage that used to be in a lot of these coffee shops starting to dwindle away. And so while they squeeze to be very small. There’s risks associated with that, but we believe that the guests will still want an experience when they’re going to a cafe.
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Why is the brand expanding into Tampa Bay?
Central Florida has been our home since the beginning and the vast majority of our cafes are currently open here. We’ve been fortunate to have really great locations in Orlando and Tampa is a natural market for us to go into. Obviously it’s a big market with a lot of opportunity and we feel that the brand will perform similarly to how it’s performed here in Central Florida.
We also are expanding in all directions of the state and out of state. We believe that the community is ready for a brand like Foxtail to come in, and we did a pilot over there in Riverview and St. Pete and both performed very well.
How do you plan to compete against other cafes in the area?
A lot of people tell me that it’s a saturated market, but I believe it’s a saturated market with very few large companies that play.
I’m very familiar with most of the coffee companies out there, it’s the local ones because those are the ones we love to visit. While I think there’s a bunch of them just like there are in Orlando, I think there’s not enough of those localized brands to stay true to the craft side of things.
It’s very easy to value engineer this coffee business to be very profitable while reducing quality and expectations from the guests. We’re the opposite. We want to be the premium brand.
And we definitely support the local guys because that’s how we started. We are not a big company with a big board behind us making these decisions. We are a local company in Orlando and decided to keep having fun and scale. It’s not a race to get to a number of locations in the Tampa market. While we’re coming in at a pretty aggressive rate in terms of number of units we’re going to open, I do believe that the coffee space is pretty open for scalability.
What’s your favorite coffee drink on the menu?
I’m boring. I just like black cold brew.
We have a great nitro cold brew and our cold brew program has been something that from the start was the most important piece of it. And I think there’s a lot to say when you drink a nitro cold brew in terms of the quality of the bean because it’s just so forward and there’s no disguising it with dairy or sugars and so forth.
As we’ve grown, we’ve changed origins here and there. But generally speaking, it’s a blend of two to three different origins that we roast in house.