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New coffee business in Pasco doesn’t pause for coronavirus

The coffee franchise’s Tampa Bay debut coincided with government-ordered restrictions on restaurants.

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LAND O’ LAKES — The calendar wasn’t kind to Aroma Joe’s.

The opening of the New England-based chain’s first store in the Tampa Bay area came three months later than planned, and it coincided with the start of Pasco public schools’ spring break. That meant no immediate sales boost from the student body and faculty from Land O’ Lakes High School, right across the street.

More pointedly, the March 16 start date was the same day some governments announced restrictions on restaurants, because of the coronavirus, capping seating capacity at 50 percent. A few days later, it was to-go only, which meant closing the cafe’s indoor seating.

"So it was Door Dash and drive-through, but we’ve been pretty steady,'' said Glenn Cote, 37, of Land O’ Lakes. "The community’s loving it, and we’re just staying positive for the community.''

Cote and Marty McKenna of Dover, N.H., own the Aroma Joe’s store in Wilderness Commons, a strip center on U.S. 41 at the entrance to the Wilderness Preserve neighborhood. If a pandemic wasn’t problematic enough, they also are in close proximity to a giant-sized competitor — a Dunkin’ store stands in the same commercial development, essentially katty-corner from Aroma Joe’s spot at the south end of the strip.

"We think we offer a difference experience, with hand-crafted drinks and our customer engagement,'' said McKenna, co-founder of the Aroma Joe’s chain, and the self-described “Joe'' in the Joe to Go Coffee Co. franchise that owns the Land O’ Lakes location.

The banner along U.S. 41 (Land O' Lakes Boulevard) signaled the start of business for the first Aroma Joe's store in the Tampa Bay area. [C.T. BOWEN | Staff]

Coffee-sippers in the region could find that out for themselves over the next several years. Aroma Joe’s plans to add 50 stores in Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties over a 12-year expansion.

Founded in New England in 2000, Aroma Joe’s began franchising in 2013. It has 67 stores in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida. The drink menu totals 74 varieties of coffee, lattes, frozen beverages and energy drinks. It also offers standard eats like breakfast sandwiches, bagels, muffins and cinnamon rolls. It puts an emphasis on its "farm-to-sip'' coffee and its service. There is no intercom, for instance, to allow more one-on-one interaction between barista and customer. The Land O’ Lakes location employs 12.

Both Cote and McKenna credit their faith with steering them through the obstacles at hand. After starting their first Florida store in Pompano Beach, they settled on the Wilderness Common’s plaza as their first Tampa Bay store, because of the area’s population, traffic volume on U.S. 41, the access and the high visibility. The space they wanted, however, was leased to another tenant. Wait two months, the agent told them, and the end unit, with a drive-through window and car lane, will be available.

"That’s perfect. God really opened the door for us,'' said Cote.

It’s the same attitude that’s allowing them to cope with the economic interruptions from coronavirus.

"We trust this was the right time for us. We’re going to work through this,'' said McKenna.

Though Aroma Joe’s continues its Florida expansion, it pays homage to its New England roots with an electronic message on its cash register that flashes at the conclusion of a transaction.

"Wicked good,'' it says.

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