Dillingham's new drive-up coffee spot thriving, one cup at a time

Dec 16, 2016

Tide Table Coffee's Shanelle Fo imagined she'd see 10 cars a day when she opened this fall. But with hot sandwiches, espresso, and cold blended drinks, business is booming at Dillingham's newest coffee joint.

Deluxe hot chocolate at Tide Table Coffee

The temperature is well below zero on a dark winter morning as Shanelle Fo grinds ice for a smoothie. A lot of customers order cold drinks from her coffee hut, she says.

“I think that every other car that comes through is a cold drink. And I think it’s so funny I’m buying ice too. Like, I have to buy ice for the cold drinks."

Seven weeks ago, she opened Dillingham’s only standalone coffee joint called Tide Table Coffee. Situated in the quiet harbor parking lot, it's a drive-through with a window for walk ups when the weather is a little warmer.

So far business has been good. The wall inside is decorated with more than a dozen post-it notes—cheat sheets with the names of regulars and their orders.

“We’ve been open about a month and a half now, and I think it’s going well,” Fo says, smiling as she leans against a small counter. The cozy hut’s many shelves are stocked with pastries, syrups, and, of course, bags of coffee.

“I think the community’s really responding very well to it and are really enjoying the different options that we have.”

Before opening, Fo anticipated serving 10 cars a day and going through maybe 40 pounds of coffee a week. But lately she's serving more like 40 cars a day and using up to 70 pounds of coffee per week. And the customers seem pleased.

“The Tide Table rocks man, they make the best Americano in town," said Jean Barret, a new regular. As he waits for a sausage biscuit sandwich for breakfast, he fesses up to his new found love for espresso based coffee. "I always just drank drip coffee before the Tide Table opened up, and then they kind of talked me into something different.”

Shanelle Fo steams milk for a hot drink.

A new business anywhere has plenty of hurdles to manage, but a rural spot like Dillingham presents a few of its own challenges. A couple weeks ago, Tide Table had to close for a day to deal with frozen pipes.

“We’re just trying to figure out different options that we can do to keep those from freezing,” says Fo.

Organizing the inside of the small space and ordering supplies in the right quantities has been a challenge, too. Freight costs are high, and supplies can be hard to get quick. Fo is happy to be ironing out these problems before the summer when business really booms.

Depending on how big her business grows, finding good labor could be a challenge too, advises Susan Isaacs. Isaacs has been a small business owner in Dillingham for 22 years. She and her husband Gordy run a bed and breakfast, an auto rental service, and a plumbing and building supply store.

“Some of the unique problems here are finding good or reliable labor, people that come to work," she says. "As a business person, you have to be able to do every facet of your business yourself because if you, on any given day, don’t have workers, you have to do it all.”

When Isaacs looks at a new business like Tide Table Coffee getting started, she offers a few pieces of advice for success.

“Regular hours, communication that you’re open, making sure that your building is in good condition and isn’t going to freeze up, and having a good menu. I think the coffee shop will do a really good business. People in the past, we’ve had coffee shops, and they’ve always done really well. I’m hoping that they do a really, really good business, particularly in the winter, so that they can stay open all the time and be here for a few years to come.”

Running her own small business takes early mornings, long hours, and a little elbow grease, but Fo carries on with a smile. If business keeps up, she hopes to break even on her initial investment in a couple of years, and grow soon to expanded hours and hosting events.

Customers are happy and so is she; success is happening every day, one cup at a time.

Contact the author: avery@kdlg.org