Chain coffee dominates local cafes, despite similar prices

By Ally Rogers

Starbucks is everywhere.

With four locations on campus and three more within a mile of Funkhouser, it’s hard to deny that Starbucks has taken over as the convenient coffee stop.

“We try to have a store where our customers expect there to be a store,” said Klint Arnold, the regional manager of Starbucks.

And yet with the continual growth by the corporate coffee shop, locally owned stores like Coffea and Common Grounds are still standing strong. So, how do they compete for a piece of the coffee cake?

The simple answer is that they don’t.

“I don’t think we try to compete,” said Jay Stevenson, a barista at Coffea. “We focus on the quality of our coffee and the quality of our drinks.”

There are many similarities among the local coffee shops, such as available teas and flavored syrups, but perhaps most important is the cost.

Chelsea Martin, a junior at UK, explained that if she didn’t work at Starbucks, she wouldn’t drink its coffee because “it’s so expensive.”

When comparing a latte, cup of coffee, tea, or other beverages from Common Grounds, Coffea and Starbucks, prices are fairly similar. For a simple, nothing-to-it cup of coffee, the price starts at around $1.25. For specialty drinks, like flavored lattes, the price begins at around $3. Add a shot of expresso at 50 cents or a pump of more syrup or another drop of chocolate, and the price continues to rise.

“When it comes to pricing, we are competitive,” Arnold said, adding that Starbucks gauges its prices based on a premium paid for origin coffee and the fact the company pays health benefits for all employees, part-time and full-time alike.

Café Mezzo, located in Patterson Office Tower, may seem like a cheaper option, but it’s not really. Again, prices are comparable to Coffea, Common Ground and Starbucks, but there are limited options for customizing and flavoring.

Stevenson said that if it’s more than just a quick caffeine jolt customers are looking for, “people choose what (Lexington coffee shop) they go to because of the atmosphere and the unique qualities and features” each place offers.

Coffea, a calm, inviting environment with diverse music selections and a friendly crowd of mostly students, lends itself to local markets. Its single-origin coffee beans come from Cincinnati, Ohio, while its baked goods, pies and snacks are from Lexington shops. Located at the corner of Rose Street and Avenue of Champions, Coffea has added fruit-flavored syrups to its rather lengthy list of customizable options.

“We don’t cater to specific groups of people,” said Stevenson, explaining that while other coffee shops have special menu selections like skinnys, Coffea simply customizes any menu item to fit each customer, and tops off each drink with a chocolate covered coffee bean.

Common Grounds, an eclectic dynamic atmosphere with different rooms, which can be reserved for meetings or study sessions, brings in local musicians and artists on a regular basis. Located on the corner of East High Street and Grand Boulevard, Common Grounds gets its coffee from Louisville, Ky., and its food, ranging from breakfast melts to salads and other entrees, is made in house.

“We have some really good deals,” said Cassidi Hunker, a Common Grounds barista, naming such bargains as a $3 bottomless coffee — buy a breakfast melt and add a coffee for $1, and a cup of coffee (with a refill) and a muffin for $2.

Hunker said what further sets Common Grounds apart from other coffee shops is the customer interaction with the menu. She explained that customized drinks have been added to the regular menu, while other items have been taken off because people didn’t respond favorably.

Starbucks, a fresh and cool atmosphere, also gives back to the local community. While the company doesn’t purchase products from each location’s local markets, it does “try to be a good neighbor,” Arnold said. He explained that the Lexington-based shops have employees volunteer at the humane society and community gardens, among other acts of philanthropy.

Student Mindy Rice said even with all the options available at Common Grounds and Coffea, she still prefers Starbucks, explaining that she is “addicted” to the ingredients Starbucks puts in her drinks.

“Anything you feel strongly about can become addictive,” Arnold said. “People love our products. We set the standard for the coffee shop experience. We respect the independent shops in town. But we truly believe in our (product) and I am proud of what we offer.”