At this point, Dane’s expertise became paramount. He owned a Dairy Queen franchise at 22 years old and understood the importance of speed, simplicity, and how to put together a menu. Perfecting the mocha was crucial. It was the early 90s and espresso was not well known, especially not in Grants Pass, Oregon, where the two were looking to plant their first flag. They were tasked with educating others. The siblings tested Mrs. Richardson’s Hot Fudge, Nestlé Quik, Hersey’s syrup, and Guittard Chocolate—everything one could imagine, Trav says. They settled on chocolate milk from down the street, and it proved to be the game-changer.
“We thought, well, this is a slam dunk,” Trav says. “It’s going to be easy.”
The menu began with a Double Dutch Mocha and Single Dutch Mocha. The price was $1.25 for an 8-ounce drink and $1.75 for 12 ounces. Following the lead of other coffee carts, Trav and Dane hoped to open their first station at Fred Meyer.
They were hyped after applying. A week passed, and there was no phone call. Silence remained after two, then three weeks. So finally Trav called. The store confirmed it received the application and asked the brothers to be patient. A few more weeks flew by, and Trav decided to call again. This time, the response was more snarky. Trav told Fred Meyer about how anxious he and his brother were and that they were ready to go. The store official, not moved, said, “Yeah, well, we’re not ready to go and when we are, we’ll let you know.”
In light of that debacle, Trav and Dane searched for another site and found one in downtown Grants Pass on 6th Street near the U.S. Post Office. The brothers sealed an agreement with the landlord for $150 per month. They were positioned beside an old billboard sign with power outlets, a convenient spot to plug in a grinder and refrigerator.
The Dutch Bros team was set, but nervous—at least one of them was.
“I remember Dane tripping on the first day, like, ‘I don’t know if I can do it, man. This just feels too weird,’” Trav says. “We had a little building behind us that we had set up as our backdrop and our storage facility that we could roll the cart into and lock everything up at night. And he stood back there and I go, ‘Hey dude, I’m gonna make you a mocha and I’m gonna put on some Led Zeppelin and we’ll start rolling here.’”
The pushcart earned around $65 that first day. Trav and Dane were indeed rolling, until the store manager of Grocery Outlet—which shared a parking lot with a strip mall and the cart—directed all of his ire toward the brothers. Full of not-so-nice profanities, the Grocery Outlet representative demanded they leave.
“‘I don’t give a f*** who you talked to,’” says Trav, recalling the unadulterated rage from the store manager. “‘This is my parking lot, and I’m gonna move your sh** unless it’s out of here tomorrow. Is that clear? and I’ll do it with my forklift if I’ve got to.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, we don’t want any problems.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah me either so beat it out of here.’ It’s just like hardcore.”
Undeterred, the brothers returned the next day, making the store manager even angrier. This time, Trav followed him into his office and convinced him to let the pushcart stay for 30 days as an experiment. During one of those days, some of Grocery Outlet’s corporate leadership pulled into the parking lot. One lit up a cigarette, another ordered a cappuccino, and a third received a mocha. Trav and Dane set the tone by offering the beverages for free. The group enjoyed their drinks so much that they praised the store for allowing the pushcart to be in the parking lot.
Thus, Dutch Bros was born—for real this time. A couple of years later, the company opened its first drive-thru. Expansion continued from there. The concept opened its first franchise in 2000. In 2005, Dane was diagnosed with ALS, at which point Trav strapped the business on his back and carried it forward. The biggest change came in 2008 when the chain decided to stop selling franchises to operators who didn’t grow up in the company. They were good people, Trav says, but they just didn’t understand the culture.
Dane passed away in 2009, and the brand honored his legacy by pushing past the Great Recession and kickstarting a new, successful growth path. In 2017, Dutch Bros shut off franchising completely so it could be the sole judge of getting “the best of the best” people in its system.