Originally created 05/08/99

Coffee business warms to area



Augusta is in the middle of a coffee boom.

Over the past few years businesses have been springing up all over the area to quench Augustans' ever growing thirst for a good cup of joe.

To meet that demand, local coffee entrepreneur Suzanne Hermann is expanding operations of her own company, Java Hut.

What began as a small espresso stand in the Signal Towers snack bar at Fort Gordon in September 1997, will soon have four locations, with the newest coming to the University Hospital professional building in June.

"We just signed the contract last Wednesday," said Mrs. Hermann. The South Carolina resident moved from Tacoma, Wash., less than three years ago, when her husband John, a U.S. Army anesthesiologist was transferred to Eisenhower Army Medical Center.

"We both loved coffee, living out in the Pacific Northwest," said Mrs. Hermann, referring to the area credited with originating America's current craze for coffee.

Knowing that she wanted to start her own business, while house hunting for their move to Augusta in 1996, Mrs. Hermann immediately noticed the area's dearth of gourmet coffee shops.

"On our flight back we decided it was going to be coffee, because we just couldn't get a good cup of coffee here," she said. "Nothing was open."

A few months after completing their move, Mrs. Hermann had about six proposals out to different businesses for her first shop.

"We just ended up going to Fort Gordon first because they were the first to move," she said.

Her second location opened at the corner of Ninth and Reynolds streets last spring, and the third -- a drive-through stand at the corner of Rice Street and Chamberlain Ave., also on Fort Gordon, opened last month.

In addition to the standard hot beverages, Java Hut's menu now includes fresh fruit smoothies and bagels, muffins and ham and cheese rolls from a Mennonite-owned bakery in Wrens.

Since 1996 Augusta's coffee market has perked up, with other cafes adding to the competition, but Mrs. Hermann said that for now, more is better.

The coffee market has barely been tapped and Augusta still has plenty of taste buds yet to be educated in the nuances of the coffee bean.

Even as she prepares for the University opening next month, Mrs. Hermann is eyeing Columbia County for future expansion.

"That's where people are bugging us for, but I just haven't found the right location yet," she said.

S.B. Crawford can be reached at (706) 823-3217 or scraw@augustachronicle.com.