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Wednesday November 15, 2000

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Corporate Coffee

Headline Photo

By Sheila Bapat

A water main on East University Boulevard was accidentally busted by construction workers Monday, cutting off Coffee Plantation's supply of water for about three hours. The broken water supply caused the coffee shop's espresso machine to spazz that day.

Aaron Speery, the normally cheerful assistant manager and the kind of guy who will punch your "Coffee Plantation Passport" punch card about eight times instead of just once, fiddles with the obstinate machine. The espresso maker shoots out a stream of water and then shrills like a pressure cooker.

Speery calls the corporate guys up in Phoenix. Nobody is there on this Veteran's Day holiday.

Boy were they upset when they found out their profit losses Monday totaled about $800. Just ask Michael Buchmeier.

"We were very upset (about the construction mishap), but we hope customers will understand," said the Director of Operations for Arizona's Diedrich Coffee Plantations. "But when you run a business, you're at the mercy of these things."

Welcome to the world of corporate coffee. Coffee Plantation is an example of entrepreneurs taking a piece of American life that's as old and plain as bread and meat and making a profit off of it. It's like the geniuses at Evian, Aquafina and Rimrock who figured water is more glamorous in a bottle.

And we all know coffee is more glamorous in the shop, particularly for UA students who can get a place to hang out, study and feed their caffeine addiction all at the same time.

But it is a mystery as to what attracts UA students to that place, with its too-dim-for-reading lights and its overpriced latte.

It isn't Martin Diedrich. Diedrich owns Coffee Plantation. He also owns Diedrich Coffee. He uses the latter to supply the former-a nice example of vertical integration.

Basically, he's damn rich.

The only evidence of him in the whole store, besides his name being on every plastic coffee cup, is an eight-by-eleven inch paper sign that says, "Meet Martin Diedrich."

But his name is all the customers see-and he's probably not the reason they buy his coffee.

Most likely, it's the people behind the counter.

People like Christi Weber. When Weber isn't working an eight-hour shift at the coffee shop, she's probably hanging out there.

Weber spends her downtime at the coffee shop, working on a piece for her Pima Community College art class. A black baseball cap covers her pink hair as she sips her coffee and works on a watercolor. Weber has only worked at Coffee Plantation since late August, but her pink hair and friendly wink have quickly made her a fixture at the coffee shop.

"It's nice to like your work," Weber says. "If you're in the corporate yuppie world, you can't have pink hair."

According to Weber, the campus branch's employees are still required to be clean and clean-cut. But they forego the uppity attitude that urban coffee shops exude.

"This place is campus-based, it's more lenient," she said. "If I were working in a shop in Idaho or Salt Lake City, I couldn't have pink hair."

The shop's eclectic mix of music, which ranges from Luscious Jackson and Fiona Apple to the Fugees and Moby, adds to its appeal. And if you know somebody behind the counter, you're likely to get an espresso on the house now and then.

Even though the corporate offices say free drinks are a no-no.

"It's against official policy for that to happen," Buchmeier said.

Official policy. Ha.

The culture of the shop is vastly different from the corporate side of the whole operation. The folks behind the counter, who bring in the different CDs and whip up the cafe mochas and chicken Caesar salads, are the ones who really make Diedrich's Coffee Plantation what it is.

Maybe they all have a job because of a massive corporate empire. In that case, thanks, Martin Diedrich.