You know when you’re driving around and you see big-name coffee brands that you don’t know much about – maybe Illy, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Rare Earth?
Insert needle screeching on a record sound here.
Nope, Rare Earth Coffee is a not a big national brand. It’s a Clovis-based company taking a path that’s a little unusual compared to most of our coffee companies in town. Rather than open traditional coffee shops, Rare Earth started with coffee shops inside convenience stores.
More upscale than gas station coffee in self-serve canisters, Rare Earth counters sell coffee, espresso-based blended drinks and smoothies from a counter inside Johnny Quik convenience stores. Each store also has a display case full of croissants, brownies and colorful macaron sandwich cookies from the Clovis Le Parisien Cafe.
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Everybody loves coffee.
Raj Sandhu, Johnny Quik
Rare Earth now has three locations inside Johnny Quik stores in the Fresno area selling drinks like a salted caramel creme brulee latte. One is at Willow and Alluvial avenues in Clovis and another at Clinton and Blythe avenues in Fresno, both with drive-thrus.
The company recently opened its latest spot inside a Johnny Quik at 32685 Avenue 7 in Madera. That location is just off Highway 99 near Fresno, with the Rare Earth counter situated between the convenience store snacks and a Subway restaurant in the same building.
Two more shops are on the way. The Johnny Quik at Shaw and Academy avenues is being remodeled to add a drive-thru and another unnamed location is in the works.
Rare Earth also sells bags of coffee, which range from cinnamon swirl flavor to bold. It’s sold in about 30 grocery and convenience stores. That includes Vons stores in Fresno and Clovis. It’s also sold at eight Food 4 Less stores between Porterville and Atwater. (Some Food 4 Less stores have a different owner and don’t carry the coffee. One Food 4 Less that sells a lot of Rare Earth is the location at Chestnut and Shepherd avenues.)
Rare Earth is also working on creating individual-sized Keurig-style containers, says Trevor Beal, Rare Earth’s vice president of marketing.
The coffee is roasted locally by the Mariposa Coffee Co. using Rare Earth’s recipe.
A gas station may seem like an odd choice for a brand that touts its quality. To overcome the gas station coffee reputation, Beal says they’re selling top-of-the-line coffee.
“We’re trying to be a premium, quality coffee,” he says. “We’ve added a gourmet vibe in the stores where it resembles a Starbucks or a premium coffee shop in a place you couldn’t get that before.”
Rare Earth sells espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, macchiatos, Americanos. All kinds of espresso-based drinks are available blended with ice
Rare Earth also sells smoothies in flavors like mango and strawberry, along with kid-friendly snow cone smoothies without espresso in flavors like blue raspberry .
And yes, you can get just a plain cup of black coffee, though that’s almost retro these days.
Coffee sales also benefit the convenience stores. Beal’s father, Ernie, who founded Rare Earth, started the Johnny Quik food stores with his brother George. They now have 15 locations.
If you’ve been around a while you may remember Day n Nite, another line of convenience stores the brothers founded before eventually selling them to Circle K.
What people buy at convenience stores over the years has changed.
“Now people are going for the drinks, a mocha, cappuccino or smoothie or something,” says Raj Sandhu, co-owner of the store.
The convenience stores have welcomed the coffee shops as sales of cigarettes, alcohol and soda are dropping, says Barbara Wondergem, a marketing representative for 15 Johnny Quik stores.
“The convenience store has to evolve,” she says. “Food service is the best way to pick (sales) up. Nobody’s going to stop drinking coffee.”