Although many coffee shops aim for a friendly vibe, Tully’s Coffee takes that comfort to the next step, President and CEO Carl Pennington says. “Some of our main competition might have a living room atmosphere where you feel like you can’t touch anything,” he remarks. “Our stores are modeled after the family room, which has the ottoman and the comfy chairs and there’s a lot of conversation.”
Seattle-based Tully’s Coffee was founded in 1992 by Tom “Tully” O’Keefe, who Pennington says is an “extremely passionate guy who has an amazing passion for coffee.” As O’Keefe watched Starbucks locations sprout all over Seattle and elsewhere, he started researching coffee to develop a smooth and balanced flavor profile. “We really strive to be that friendly neighborhood coffee expert,” Pennington states.
To create the best coffee, Tully’s roasts in small batches with roast masters that utilize all five senses to determine when the beans are perfect. While some roasters flash roast in seven or eight minutes, Tully’s roasts take 12 to 15 minutes to accomplish a full-body flavor. “It’s really about maximizing that bean to come into its full flavor potential,” Pennington says. “It’s like a fine wine.”
The hand-roasting process – devoid of computers and machines – is unique today, especially when distributing those roasts to nearly 200 Tully’s retail stores in the western United States. “The process is still very much run like a passionate, small, independent company,” Pennington says. “It keeps it lively and creative,” he adds. “We have this large and well-known brand that people love, and yet the process is so humbly simple.”
Tully’s Coffee strives to make relationships across the country, and it has a number of unique locations as a result. The company serves up coffee in stores, hotel lobbies, college campuses and in Boeing’s manufacturing plant. Pennington explains that Tully’s formed a relationship with the aerospace leader and set up shop in its facilities throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“Wherever an opportunity presents itself, we look at it and ask, ‘Could we be a great member of the neighborhood here? Could we give the customer base the Tully’s experience?’” Pennington says. “If we say, ‘Yeah, we can,’ even if we have to get creative, we go for it. Some people are just shocked that we’re there sometimes, like Boeing.”
The company also has a location on campus at University of California at Berkeley, which marked the first time the university allowed a commercial chain to set up shop on campus.
“A lot of the reason they allowed us on is that they believed in our brand and what we stand behind,” Pennington says. “We believe in community, making genuine connections with our guests, and, of course, serving the best barista drinks around. “These are all things in the industry that we just love and embrace,” Pennington continues. “We’re extremely proud of that.”
Pennington says Tully’s focuses on being a great member of the community by offering friendly service and donating to community causes. In fact, Tully’s was founded with a focus on four main ideals: the product, the people, the environment and community commitment. To be a strong community member, Tully’s is active in many causes, such as sponsoring local schools or participating in cancer awareness events.
“Being a member of the community is something we take very, very seriously,” Pennington notes. “Who we are transcends so many different communities. We’re an accepting company, and we try to be very welcoming and friendly. I feel very comfortable that our stores – in every different type of community you could think of – really engage ourselves with the people in the community. We also allow our store staff to be individuals, to be passionate and to get involved.”