Beloved New Mexican coffee company Piñon Coffee started 22 years ago in Albuquerque, when entrepreneurial caffeine enthusiast Jim Franco started roasting coffee out of the back of his red pickup truck. Over the past two decades, Piñon has become as New Mexican as green chile, expanding to be one of the largest coffee roasters in the state.
What sets Piñon apart, besides its unparalleled brew, is its true Southwestern vibe. That sensibility is rooted in the roasting process of the company’s original coffee, which uses the piñon nut that is a staple of the region. Piñon’s coffee uses a blend of the piñon flavoring and fine high-altitude Arabica coffee, and it is hand-roasted to ensure consistently top quality and flavoring. The company’s regional origins are also evident in such flavors as “Biscochito” (the state cookie of New Mexico) and “Route 66 or Bust” coffee—a bold, chocolatey roast that will get you your caffeine kicks.
The past two years have been Piñon’s biggest to date. Previously, Piñon aficionados got their coffee fix by purchasing beans from retail or grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Cost Plus World Market. But in February 2015, Piñon opened their first brick-and-mortar location, and a year and a half later, they opened their second. Both locations are in Piñon’s hometown of Albuquerque.
The second location is a drive-through coffee shop, with orders taken on an iPad by a staff member going down the line of waiting cars. Patrons can also enjoy their cups of joe in the café, which has about 50 seats and also offers a selection of baked goods.
Suddenly, a 22-year-old company faced a brand-new problem. They needed a point-of-sale system.
The process of finding the right POS wasn’t as smooth as Piñon’s blend. They went through two point-of-sale systems in less than 18 months, but neither was a good fit. According to Piñon president Allen Bassett, the initial systems lacked the functionalities they needed and were too expensive for a company in the process of venturing out. Issues arose with reporting consistencies, as well as consistencies in cash handling.
Bassett explains, “There was a lot of funky stuff going on. Things didn’t add up.”
As they searched for a third system, says Bassett, “We got a quote from a POS company, and it was astonishing.” The search was proving futile.
Then they got a call from someone at Lavu, the mobile point-of-sale system that was the first POS for the iPad in the App Store. Lavu’s headquarters are located just a few miles from Piñon’s two locations in Albuquerque.
“Converting both places to Lavu saved us a ton of money,” Bassett says. Piñon Sales Manager Madison Rumbaugh notes, “It has all the functionality we need.”
“It’s really nice to be able to check on any of the reports from anywhere,” says Bassett, referring to the Pilot App, which allows restaurant owners and managers to access a business management suite on their phones.
One of Piñon’s unique POS needs pertains to the drive-through iPad order-taking at their second location. The company needed a point-of-sale system that is mobile and lightweight, with easy digital-ticket delivery to the inside-the-building team. Piñon uses Lavu’s Kitchen Display System in the back of house, so that baristas can make the drinks ordered by drive-through patrons as soon as the orders are placed.
“We wanted to have a person as your order taker,” says Bassett, “instead of just this big impersonal box, with a speaker that sounds like Charlie Brown’s mom.” “That was a big part of the functionality, because that is not normal [for drive-through establishments].
Having a person take drive-through orders is fully in line with Piñon’s values. Piñon is “a big family,” says Bassett. “I try to make sure that everybody has an impact.” With in-person ordering even outside through a car window, Piñon provides a sense of personalization, community, and individual attention.
Another way Piñon promotes those values is through its role as the official coffee sponsor of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon festival in the world. Nearly 600 balloons ascend to the blue Albuquerque skies during the festival, launching from a field the size of 54 football fields. It is a spectacle like no other; according to the event’s organizers, it is the most photographed event in the world.
For the 2016 Balloon Fiesta, Piñon partnered with Lavu, “which was amazing,” says Rumbaugh, “as anyone who had not used the system before who was running a register was able to use it. [It was] so easy. And we were able to actually have reports, which we weren’t able to have last year.
Piñon had two coffee-selling tents at the festival, each of which was buzzing well before dawn every morning of the nine-day festival. (Festival attendees start arriving around 4:00 a.m., and balloons ascend soon after the sun does.) The one thing that early risers need more than anything else is caffeine, and Piñon was ready for them, brewing more than 300 gallons an hour at a separate brew tent.
Using the Lavu app on his phone, Bassett “could see what the concession spaces were doing while at the brew tent.” And those concession spaces were doing breakneck business. “We’re not built like any other concession space,” Bassett says, explaining that when patrons of the Piñon tents purchased beverages, they were given empty cups, which the patrons then filled up as they preferred.
Bassett notes, “The POS system for this year, compared to last year... was so much easier to [use to] flow people through. And since we’re not selling food, our model on this is based on throughput... And it’s just really easy, not dealing with any receipt paper, not dealing with error messages.”
With its focus on community and quality (and maybe with a bit of caffeine to fuel it), Piñon Coffee has grown from retail to multi-location at a remarkably rapid rate. Or as they might say in the Southwest, Piñon could outpace a roadrunner.
Photo credit: Kelsey Bishop
Lavu is a leading mobile point-of-sale system for restaurants. Used on over 20,000 terminals, in more than 80 countries, Lavu is a fully featured iPad-based POS system designed exclusively for restaurants and bars. Lavu was the first iPad point of sale in the Apple App Store, and continues to be pioneers of technology by offering the latest in features and functionalities. Exceptional features include flexible payment-processing solutions, an intuitive, easy-to-use interface, and Lavu's comprehensive business management suite for all reporting needs. Lavu works for all food and drink establishments, streamlining operations to simplify management and improve the customer experience. www.lavu.com
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