Midwest Company Buys Downtown Coffee Shops

Espresso Royale Aims for Five Santa Barbara Coffeehouses in Two Years

Midwestern coffee company Espresso Royale has purchased popular downtown Santa Barbara coffee shops Coffee Cat and Northstar Coffee Company, and plans on soon opening another cafe in Goleta.

In partnership with Coffee Cat owner and manager Krista Fritzen, both Northstar and a new coffeehouse opening in place of Goleta’s Mojo Coffee will take the name Cafe Zoma. Coffee Cat on Anacapa Street will retain its original name and menu.

The three coffeehouses will be “sister shops” under Espresso Royale, and it won’t be the company’s first time in Santa Barbara. Having owned Coffee Cat back in the mid ‘90s, the company “liked the idea of coming back to [its] roots,” Fritzen said. Today, it has more than 20 locations throughout Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Georgia.

They were looking for expansion and I was looking for investments,” Fritzen said. “I wanted to have more shops in Santa Barbara, but I couldn’t do it by myself.”

Fritzen proposed the partnership to Espresso Royale about a year ago, and together they bought Northstar last May. Fritzen’s vision for the State Street favorite is for cafe-goers to frequent the locally run coffeehouse over downtown’s corporate venues, such as Starbucks or The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

The modern trend, Fritzen explained, has been coined “the third wave” of coffeehouses, where coffee drinkers are moving toward local chains and mom-and-pop coffee shops. And in Santa Barbara, Espresso Royale plans “to build a strong local chain of at least five stores in the next two years,” according to its Web site.

The future Cafe Zoma in the University Plaza Shopping Center — opening in place of Mojo Coffee, which shut its doors over the summer — will house the bakery for the sister stores. “I’m hoping to have it open in the next few weeks,” Fritzen said.

Fritzen holds a “coffee history” with Espresso Royale, she said, having worked for the company at a cafe in Santa Cruz in the beginning of her barista career.

That’s where I learned to make really good coffee and developed my customer service philosophies,” she said.

Fritzen bought Coffee Cat in 2003, and co-owns the shop with her husband, Jason Womack.

The partnership with Espresso Royale will allow her to spend more time focusing on her passion for coffee, she said. She is excited to be in the shops interacting with customers, rather than doing the less-interesting business work, “like bookkeeping,” she said.

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