Monday, January 29, 2007

Beyond the Battlefield

Beyond the Battlefield
Solano Serves as Starting Point for Firm's U.S. Expansion
By Amanda Janis/Business Editor

Mel Mitchell, Ellie Uldall and Ted Beecher (left to right), are part of a group that regularly meets at Green Beans Coffee Worldcafe in Vacaville. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

Hallujah, Jalallabad, Vacaville and Fairfield share a common economic development: In each city, Green Beans Coffee is busy setting up shop.

Green Beans is a Larkspur-based company that's spent a decade carving out a most unusual niche - serving organic gourmet coffee to U.S. troops in some of the world's nastiest war zones. It boasts 55 locations in eight countries, and now, it's using Solano County as its launching pad for domestic expansion.

The firm recently purchased Vacaville's Perfect Blend Coffee House, located at the intersection of East Monte Vista Avenue and Dobbins Street. And, even more significantly, the firm is building a store on Fairfield's North Texas Street that will open in March and serve as a model for all of its future domestic locations.

A far cry from the 40-foot double-wide trailers that function as Green Beans cafes in global hot zones - and have reportedly been used for target practice by insurgents - the Fairfield store will incorporate recycled and eco-friendly materials.

"That will be the prototype, basically, for future stores opening in the U.S.A.," said Jon Araghi, Green Beans' vice president and Bay Area native.

Deals are in the works to expand throughout the United States both on military bases and beyond. The firm has franchising packages being finalized, Araghi said, which would offer a 10 percent discount to franchisees who are military personal returning from overseas.

"We have numerous, numerous requests from customers who've returned from temporary duty overseas," explained Araghi. "They come back and want to open their own Green Beans. They've developed a very unique loyalty to the brand name - instead of Starbucks or Peet's or Caribou - because when they were out there, those brands were not there with them. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the troops."

Araghi and his brother Jason Araghi, the company's president, have traveled around the globe to set up coffeehouses at military installations throughout the Middle East.

The privately-held company's success story - last year it racked up $15 million in revenue, a whopping 67 percent more than the previous year - began ten years ago in Saudi Arabia.

In 1996, the two brothers were working in the Middle East and decided to open the Art Nouveau Cafe, a Seattle-style coffeehouse, in Riyadh. The cafe became so popular with U.S. soldiers stationed nearby, that soon, at the military's urging, Green Beans opened locations at the neighboring Eskan Village and Prince Sultan military bases.

"We basically grew with (the military) as their footprint expanded in the region," said Jason Araghi. "And when 9/11 hit, we were the first American food company that responded and said we'd go over there."

The impact has been positive, according to Jerry Hanson, an Iraq-based specialist with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, a contractor that delivers home-style merchandise and food to troops overseas.

"Green Bean has gone to just about every location where we have troops deployed," Hanson said.

Green Beans imports its organic beans from around the world and has them roasted and packaged at a facility in South San Francisco. The logistics of shipping the coffee to war zones results in huge overhead costs, but the company insists on prices similar to stateside cafes.

"The costs of the products they sell are acceptable but can put a pretty good dent in a military member's wallet if they drink it a lot," Scott Whitley, a soldier stationed in Iraq and a daily Green Beans patron, told the Wall Street Journal.

Still, Green Beans kicks a small percentage of its profits back to organizations that support military families, such as the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund.

Back in Vacaville, longtime patrons of the former Perfect Blend have given Green Beans the thumbs up.

"So far, so good," said Ted Beecher. "It's different (management), but it's great."

Fellow regular Ellie Uldall agreed. "It's just a real friendly coffee shop," she said.

Nicole Michaud, the cafe's manager, said it's drawn a mix of civilians and soldiers since changing hands.

"We've gotten a few of each," she said. "But the military personnel that have come are really excited."

Jon Araghi, vice president of Green Beans Coffee, discusses the company's vision while visiting its new Vacaville store.

Gary Klien, of the Marin Independent Journal, contributed to this report. Amanda Janis can be reached at

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