Most folks have a routine punctuated by caffeine. From coffee to tea and soda to energy drinks, everyone has their go-to drink. Coffee drinkers know the one — the one the local coffee shop knows before they even know the patron’s name.

 

Just as each person likely has a go-to drink, everyone probably has a go-to place, as well. Luckily for caffeine lovers, there is nothing short of a coffee boom happening across The Natural State, from Onyx Coffee Lab in Rogers to Fidel & Co. Coffee Roasters in east Little Rock.

 

But what about the drive-thru options? The rise of Scooter’s? Or 7 Brew?

 

We decided to dive into the drive-thru craze headfirst, exploring drink options and unraveling the experience for readers firsthand. The verdict? There is room for every type of caffeinated beverage and every way to purchase it in Arkansas.

 

coffee

The Phenomenon:

7 Brew

 

The first 7 Brew opened its driving lanes in Rogers in 2017. Oregon native Ron Crume believed northwest Arkansas was the ideal environment to start a coffee operation. He knew beans sporting West Coast vibes would do well in the area, but the idea to offer it to customers in a fast, convenient way while cultivating kindness came later.

 

The 7 Brew craze didn’t take long to catch fire and has been reaching new heights ever since, expanding across the Midwest all the way to the East Coast. The chain is about convenience, but it is convenience dripping in experience. Those who haven’t driven through one yet you should give it a try.

 

Upon entering the queue, guests met with fun colors, bright lights, contagious smiles and nonstop music. The service is friendly, efficient and, brace yourself, carried out by actual humans who actually care about what goes in your cup.

Brandon Sebald is the owner of multiple locations of 7 Brew in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Missouri. A former franchisee owner of Planet Fitness, Sebald decided to throw his hat into the 7 Brew arena not only because he could see the electricity of the brand itself, but also because he was a customer first.

 

“I knew what the brand was about. It was a great product, a great experience, plus it’s super-fast customer service,” he said. “What brought me to franchising in general is you find a really great brand that’s scalable, like 7 Brew, and it’s centered around coffee and energy drinks. So it’s something that everybody knows. There’s minimal [customer] education around it.”

 

As soon as he discovered that 7 Brew was making a push to franchise, Sebald set out to tour one of the “stands,” as they are called. After that, he was hooked.

 

“I said, ‘Game over. I’m doing this brand, so long as they’ll let me be a part of it,’” he said.

 

Part of the contagiousness of the brand is the hip vibe. It skews young, and although there is definitely something on the menu for anyone, regardless of age or even how they prefer to enjoy their caffeinated (or noncaffeinated) beverages, the attendant “Brew Crew” tends to be in their 20s.

 

“They’re in there. The music is playing. They’re having a good time serving customers, and it’s all about kindness,” Sebald said. “Our employees just love it. I mean, they’re just fanatical about putting smiles on people’s faces.”

 

Diners are greeted by one Brew Crew member who walks guests through the menu and takes their orders. You’re then met by another individual who takes the payment. Finally, guests will likely interact with a completely different team member who hands out the special, one-of-a-kind, customized drink.

 

Sebald said each 7 Brew location can sometimes employ up to 40 or 50 people and these touchstone face-to-face interactions with Brew Crew members are all part of the experience. Conversations included, you’re still going to be in and out of the line incredibly fast.

 

You go through there, and you are automatically getting a smile for your day, and you’re off on your way,” Sebald said. “Even if there’s 20 cars in there, you know that they’re going to be fast. I mean, our ticket times are industry-best in under four minutes.”

 

This personal touch is welcomed, especially for newcomers looking to navigate the menu for the first time.

 

“We literally have 20,000 different combinations,” Sebald said.

 

To help with the almost endless choices, the menu sports the seven OG Faves, which include the chain’s most popular coffee drink, the Blondie, a caramel and vanilla espresso-based breve.

 

There are also Seven Energy options, Seven Fizzes (sparkling water infused with any flavor), teas, smoothies and shakes. The best part? Guests can make each drink their own, regardless of their health journeys and whether they drink caffeine or not.

 

“I’ve got friends who are keto or paleo or this or that, and the menu is customizable for everybody,” Sebald said. “That’s something I really appreciate because I like to drink pretty clean ingredients myself too.”

 

And while energy drinks themselves aren’t a new way to consume caffeine, they are having a bit of a heyday in 2023. Some people claim they can enjoy energy drinks without the jitters that tend to come with traditional coffee-based or espresso-based drinks. Others who do not enjoy coffee- or espresso-flavored drinks, even with all the syrups and milks available to give it a smoother taste, reach for energy drinks. Either way, 7 Brew is on top of the trend, even creating its own branded energy drink.

 

“We were using Red Bull for forever, and then we tested the Seven Energy, and it was a hit,” Sebald said. “The Seven Energy pairs better because it doesn’t have a certain aftertaste, so we can make it into any flavor that we want. Having our own brand of energy drink on the menu makes it a lot easier for the customization piece.”

 

The formula is proven by the company’s considerable growth. Boasting just 30 locations at the beginning of this year, 7 Brew has over 100 stands now and will likely have close to 200 by the end of the year. Will it take over traditional, sit-down coffee shops? Sebald doesn’t think so.

 

“There’s plenty of space for both,” Sebald said. “You might want an environment to be able to sit down, plug into Wi-Fi and just be there for hours. With us, we’re the other end of the spectrum, where it’s all about speed.”

 

The Transplant:

Scooter’s

 

For those looking to scoot in and scoot out, Scooter’s Coffee has a space in their drive-thru. The flagship location was founded in Bellevue, Nebraska, in 1998 by co-founders Don and Linda Eckles. Scooter’s prides itself on the relationships they have cultivated over time with their selected coffee growers, baristas and customers alike.

 

The first Arkansas location opened in 2018, when Crystal Ude-Stall and her husband, Alan Stall, took the plunge into bringing a little bit of the Cornhusker State to the Natural State. When Alan retired from the car business back in Nebraska, the two found themselves visiting Arkansas quite a bit.

 

“We loved coming down here and visiting our friends, who are also our business partners now,” Crystal said. Once the couple decided they wanted to make the move down South, they began to toy with the idea of a coffee operation. They didn’t have farther to look than the Scooter’s model.

 

“We were very familiar with Scooter’s and knew how great it was,” Crystal said.

 

The couple co-owns three locations in Northwest Arkansas, including their flagship on 206 S. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville. Currently nearly a dozen Scooter’s locations can be found across Arkansas from Van Buren to Maumelle.

 

Opening a coffee shop in NWA might have seemed like a gamble to an outsider looking in, but the transplants knew what they were doing. Even though there are quite a few delicious options for patrons to purchase coffee, Scooter’s has a slightly different angle to offer patrons beyond quality coffee provided amazingly fast.

“All of our beans are roasted in Omaha,” Crystal explained. “Scooter’s purchases directly from the coffee farmer, so there is no middleman. This is great for the farmer, because they make more money and grow more coffee, and we get the best coffee.

 

“Our coffee beans and espresso beans are superior. We roast our beans low and slow so you don’t get that bitter taste. It’s very smooth.”

 

Scooter’s expansions have taken the brand all across the Midwest and to both coasts — and the expansion is not likely to stop anytime soon.

 

“They just opened about their 676th location,” Crystal said. “They could be at 1,000 by the end of this year. There are so many locations now across the U.S. It’s just an awesome company. It started like a family, and it still kind of feels like that.”

 

Even with the push to expand, however, Crystal said she and her husband are not likely to open any more Sooter’s locations. The three stores they currently operate keep them busy enough.

 

“The quick-service industry is not easy. Trying to find employees and keep good employees since COVID, as everybody always says, is tough,” Crystal said. “We’ve got good teams at all of our stores.”

 

Scooter’s locations tend to find a niche in their local community, and the couple’s three Arkansas locations are no exception. They have plenty of local fans, including those from the nearby Walmart headquarters.

 

“We definitely have a lot of regulars,” Crystal said. “Sometimes they can pull up and start talking, and we’ve already got their drink halfway made because we’ve already got their orders. When school is in session, we are busier, of course. Vacation and summer time slows us down a bit.”

 

The menu alone is a draw enough for anyone to become a fan of the coffee chain. Scooter’s has plenty to choose from, from delicious coffee to flavored espresso drinks and energy drinks, as well as freshly baked pastry options. By fresh baked, they mean fresh baked.

 

“All our pastries are made at Omaha in the bakery, and they only have a shelf life of two days,” Crystal explained. “Our everything bagel sandwich is the most popular.”

 

As far as beverages go, the menu is relatively streamlined and approachable. The Caramelicious is the most popular item on the menu, made with an espresso base, creamy caramel sauce and a choice of milk. Infusions — drinks made with Scooter’s own branded energy drink — are also popular.

 

“A lot of times, people are at first intimidated,” Alan said. “They really don’t know what they want. Our employees are trained, if there’s a hesitation, to ask, ‘What kind of flavors are you looking for?’ ‘Would you like that hot, iced, or blended?’ We help you out at the window.”

 

Alan said it best: “At Scooter’s we are amazing people serving amazing coffee, amazingly fast.”

The O.G.:

Guillermo’s

 

A staple in Little Rock, Guillermo’s Gourmet Coffee first entered the scene in 2006 when then-owner Hans Oliver was dedicated to roasting the perfect coffee bean. The coffee shop has changed hands more than a few times since then.However the dedication to provide the best cup of coffee remains at the forefront.

 

Located in the Village strip mall in west Little Rock, drivers could almost miss the front of the shop. Upon entering, you’re met with a cozy, inviting interior that begs them to sit and stay for a while.

 

On a recent Tuesday, every single chair was occupied by 9:05 a.m. Lindsey Kendrick, director of retail operations, said.

 

“I feel like the shop itself has a really good vibe to it,” she added. A lot of people ask if this volume is normal for a Tuesday, but we continuously have a bustle going on.”

 

At Guillermo’s, guests can enjoy coffee and espresso drinks, as well as teas, lemonades and smoothies. The shop is a wholesale bean provider, so not only do they have tasty, fresh beans at the shop, but they also provide them to other local shops. Plus, if guests find a particular roast they prefer, they can take the beans home with them, as well.

 

“We create our own seasonal menus,” Kendrick said. “Right now, on our summer menu, I would say the coconut lavender latte is one of the most popular drinks. Plus, we try to have things for non-coffee drinkers, like our honeysuckle iced tea.”

For those who are hungry, there are pastries and other delights locally sourced from Community Bakery and the Croissanterie. More substantial items include breakfast burritos, quiches and sandwiches.

 

The influx of drive-thru coffee options has not affected Guillermo’s so far, Kendrick said, adding that there are regulars, and then there are Guillermo’s regulars.

 

“A lot of our regulars will jokingly talk about our competition, but we haven’t seen any drastic margins happen because of them,” she said. “I just feel like you go to 7 Brew for a certain reason and you go to Guillermo’s for a certain reason.

 

“I really just think that we have such a sense of community. We have a lot of the same people come every day. It’s kind of like your hometown Cheers. We know a lot of our regulars by name. We know a lot of regulars by their drink. We’ll know their drink before we know their name.

 

“I think that I would just want them to know that we’ve got a little something for everybody, coffee drinkers and non alike. We’re more than willing to explore options for those who don’t know what they might like to try.”

 

coffee

The Future:

Pettaway Coffee

 

Perched on the corner of Pettaway Square on 21st Street in downtown Little Rock, Pettaway Coffee recently opened its doors this past summer. Co-owner and developer Michael Orndorff, the brains behind the Pettaway Square revitalization project, lives and works in the area. He promised his neighbors there would be a coffee shop when he first broke ground on Pettaway Square, and when a few different tenants fell through, he kept that promise by getting involved himself.

 

Luckily, Orndorff was connected to Aaron Long, former owner of the now-closed Revival Coffee in the Regions Bank Building and a coffee consultant. Orndorff will be the first to tell you that Long is the brains behind the coffee menu.

 

“Aaron is a coffee nerd. He wants you to really enjoy the coffee,” Orndorff said.

 

The shop offers coffee and espresso drinks, plus teas. It is also fast becoming known as one of the best places to work remotely in Little Rock. The store is also at the forefront of the non-alcoholic movement in the city, making it one of the first establishments to take mocktails to a whole new level.

 

As far as the drive-thru craze, Orndorff knows there is a place for that, but there is also a place for the Pettaway Coffees of the world too.

 

“If you’re in a hurry, a drive-thru works,” he said, “but we’re a third place model. We’re not offering convenience; we’re offering experience.

 

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