Since founding Biggby Coffee in 1995 and building the Michigan-based business into the fastest-growing coffee chain in the U.S., Bob Fish has taken pride in its hands-on, next-to-you interaction with customers in store lobbies and drive-thru lanes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged, but not broken that spirit.
“Now, it’s more than twice arms-length to get the same job done,” Fish said while recording a podcast with MLive’s Eric Hultgren. “Biggby has always been a place where you go to get a smile and a cup of coffee, and we can’t ignore the fact that people are getting a dopamine rush because they’re seeing people…who are smiling, engaging, happy and excited to see you.
“Our values remain grounded in supporting people and building a life they love. We have to keep a positive attitude regardless of what we’re doing (while dealing with the virus).”
Michigan’s stay-at-home order transitioned Biggby’s business to carry-out and drive-thru service only effective March 17. Some of the 200-plus stores temporarily closed while others changed hours. All the owner-operators are eagerly awaiting the ability to re-engage with comfortable spaces in coffeehouses and breaking out the patio furniture and allowing people to talk, celebrate friendships and share a cup of coffee.
The priority is to keep the health and safety of staff and customers at the forefront, said Fish, Biggby’s co-CEO.
“Biggby has been at the leading edge of doing everything proper from a safety and sanitation standpoint,” Fish said, noting that new protocols with everything from masks to social distancing in stores have been instituted and followed.
Despite the differences in daily routines, Biggby has bucked national trends by increasing its overall sales and hiring staff rather than reducing its workforce. The coffeeshops have been a bellwether of the economy and Michigan’s overall mood.
“I think Biggby is just a note of optimism in what returning to normal looks like,” Fish said. “The fact that sales are back to normal already and we’re in a hiring mode is pretty cool.”
The other shift that Biggby leaders have observed during the pandemic is the care and concern customers have had for staff during uncertain times. People are being “hyper-generous” with tipping baristas and expressing appreciation, Fish said.
Fish also shared how scheduling daily walks has helped keep him remain centered under different life circumstances. He recommends scheduling time for yourself outdoors to all.
“Something really special happens out there,” he said. “You can start sorting through things in your head and getting aligned. Listen to nature, the wind, the trees, the animals, the birds, all that has a really positive impact on your mind and mindspace.”
Coffee as cocktail?
Fish also virtually visited with MLive’s Amy Sherman to talk about coffee-based cocktails and to share his signature recipe for a creamy Tiramisu Latte that is a cool pick-me-up as Michigan enters the summer season.
The ingredients are below, but watch the video with Amy and Bob for more tips, including why to make your coffee stronger and how to properly prepare the drink.
“This one is an absolute winner,” Fish said. “It’s magic.”
Bob Fish’s Tiramisu Latte
- 4 oz Biggby coffee, brewed, and chilled
- 2 oz Jagermeister Cold Brew liquor
- 4 oz whole milk
- 1 oz brandy
- 1 oz Godiva chocolate liquor
- coffee ice cubes
- softly whipped cream, sweetened if you like
- cocoa powder