Caffeine Fix: Seth’s Coffee and Drive Thru
Like any other exhausted Lawrence student, caffeine makes up about 50 percent of my diet. The other 50 percent is protein bars and the occasional vegetable (sorry, mom). But vegetables can’t help keep you awake when you have two papers due in two days. And they definitely can’t help you when you and your roommate decide to binge watch The Office on a Monday night instead of going to bed. Coffee is the only solution.
Although I don’t often venture outside of Appleton (Starbucks is too far away to reach on foot), the local coffee shops have been more than enough to help me make it through my day. These establishments have seen me through many midterms and finals, each with their own unique spin on the coffee shop experience. Whether you’re looking for a homey, warm feel or a trendy and bright place to sit and read, the coffee shops in Appleton do not disappoint.
If you’re in a pinch and need a cup of coffee between classes, Seth’s Drive Thru in Appleton is a great option. Lawrence students, particularly those in the music conservatory, are frequent visitors, as the drive thru itself is located just a two minute walk from the conservatory. The cafe location in Little Chute is a fifteen minute drive from campus, but no less worth the trip.
In 2009, owner Seth Lenz opened Seth’s Coffee in his hometown of Little Chute. A frequent visitor to other coffee shops around the Fox Valley, the absence of any such establishments in his hometown inspired him to open one of his own. “I knew we needed a coffeeshop in Little Chute,” Lenz says. “[The coffeeshop] was a long-time dream that I really wanted to see come to be.”
However, this was not an easy process, as he did not have any experience in running or starting a business. “None of that was natural [to me, I] had to learn as we went.” Lenz took three semesters of business classes between Santa Barbara City College and Fox Valley Tech to learn how to manage his fledgling establishment. “I loved that coffee provided a [place for getting together], the communal aspect of coffee is what’s appealing to me,” Lenz says. The drive to create a quality product and create a place for others to enjoy the communal experience of coffee inspired him to take the steps to build his own business.
In 2015, Seth’s Coffee expanded to their drive-thru location on E. Washington St. near Lawrence University. The location, an old bank drive thru building owned by the university, became a saving grace for downtown employees, college students and professors alike.
Making pourover coffee in a drive-thru setting proved to be a challenge, as the new location forced the company to find a balance between making an efficient, but still quality product. “Starbucks has fully automated machines [that] we don’t have, so we have to execute handcrafed drinks without sacrificing their quality and still have it be quick,” Lenz says. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but I have a great staff.”
Lenz says they had never used fast brewing methods prior to the new location, and would make small batches by hand-pourover method, which proved to be too slow and unsustainable for the drive thru. To cope with this, Lenz invested in a batch brewer, which helped keep up with the flow of traffic, but still enabled the drive-thru to serve their quality house blend of coffee. Lenz later installed a batch brewer in the Little Chute location, as it is just as busy as the drive thru.
“Having a quality product is very important to me,” Lenz says, explaining the selection process he went through when deciding which blend of coffee to use for his business. “We never serve coffee that’s more than ten days from its roast date.” Seth’s Coffee gets its beans from Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago and Ruby Coffee Roasters in Amherst, WI. In addition, the cafe uses a reverse osmosis filtration system and top of the line equipment to ensure the coffee is brewed as fresh as possible. Although upgrading their equipment came with a learning curve, the decision paid off. “There’s a big difference when you make it well,” Lenz says. The company’s commitment to delivering a quality product shines through with every cup. In addition to serving coffee, Seth’s Coffee has recently added a selection of craft beer and wine to their menu at the Little Chute location, with two rotating tap beers, primarily from local Wisconsin breweries in addition to a few national craft brands.
For Lenz, the communal draw of coffee is the most significant part of his business in Little Chute. “One of the most surprising things about this business is the incredible mix of people we get, people of all ages, working professionals, couples for dates, friends, business luncheons, kids, everybody comes here.” The drive-thru location likewise sees a variety of customers, in addition to the influx of Lawrence students and faculty who need their caffeine as fast as possible (including yours truly).
Moving forward, Lenz doesn’t currently see any need to expand his business outside of their Little Chute and Appleton locations. “Right now, we’re happy with what we got, it’s going really well. [We have] great staff, things are running smoothly… since there’s no one else like us in Little Chute or Appleton, we like the niche location. I’m not interested in competing,” Lenz says. “We just want to do what we do, and do it well.”
While I can’t speak for all Lawrence students, Seth’s Drive Thru and Seth’s Coffee are favored locations that never compromise the quality of their coffee, regardless if you need it in five minutes before class or if you’ve got a whole afternoon to enjoy it.
For more information about Seth’s Coffee, check out their blog!
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