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Seattle native meant to be in a Coffee Box
by Michelle Zewin
Mar 10, 2008 | 985 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href=>Tribune/Debra Reid</a> The Coffee Box owner Heather Johnson has attracted her own clientele of commuters and Legends construction workers making her competitive with a nearby Starbucks.
Tribune/Debra Reid The Coffee Box owner Heather Johnson has attracted her own clientele of commuters and Legends construction workers making her competitive with a nearby Starbucks.
After growing up in Seattle, it's not unusual for Heather Johnson to acquire a love for coffee. Between Seattle's Best Coffee and Starbucks, there is a coffeehouse on just about every block.

Now, Johnson is bringing her love for coffee to Sparks. In October, she opened The Coffee Box, a double drive-thru gourmet coffee kiosk that sits in the Shell parking lot off of Sparks Boulevard and Lincoln Way.

And it's not only coffee she's wants to offer, but also the social aspect that she finds coffeehouses provide in Seattle but lack in Nevada.

"In Seattle they're just so much fun," Johnson said. "There's so much interaction. In Nevada they just take your order over an intercom and that's it."

But Johnson likes the social part. It's what makes getting a cup of joe fun. And that's what she loves most about her 96 square foot coffee kiosk.

"It's really fun having both windows," Johnson said. "I've had customers talking to each other from each side and buying each other's drinks. There's so much interaction."

Johnson said she isn't sure how it started but she's always wanted to own a coffee kiosk. She heard about the one at the Shell station - the only one in Sparks - and wanted to check it out. As luck would have it, she drove up right when the owner was hanging a for sale sign. That's when she knew it was meant to be.

Johnson and her husband, Randy, then spent all of August and September remodeling. She painted it, got new floors and new equipment. The end product is an adorable little box that is quite welcoming on the outside and cozy on the inside.

The Coffee Box has now been open since Oct. 22. For the grand opening, Johnson and her husband arrived at 4 a.m. to blow up balloons. They didn't stop until the string of tethered balloons reached dozens of feet into the air. They also gave away free coffee.

"How else am I going to get people to try?" Johnson asked.

And if the balloons weren't attention grabbing enough, Johnson had University of Nevada, Reno students out on the corner with signs to direct traffic to the kiosk.

"But we got slammed and I had to bring them in," Johnson said with a laugh. As the rush got really thick she ran outside yelling 'Pull the girls!' "

Pictures from the grand opening now hang on the walls. Johnson and her two baristas from UNR are all smiles. The first dollar ever made is also tacked to the wall.

Johnson is a true coffee lover. She drinks a mocha every day and is intrigued by the whole process of both making coffee and serving it.

"I love the art of making coffee," Johnson said. "I'm always learning. And the grind changes with the weather. You have to adjust it or you won't get the same extraction."

So Johnson sometimes finds herself making and remaking her coffee until she gets it just right. But she wouldn't have it any other way. Johnson runs her operation how she would want it ran if she were a customer.

"I like coffee," Johnson said. "I want it fast and I want it good."

While most people like their quick morning coffee, Johnson said that it gets interesting when people order completely unfamiliar drinks.

"It's fun making the custom drinks I've never seen before," Johnson said. "People will throw in a little of this in and a little of that. With coffee it's good to try different places. It's a specialty."

Aside from all the usual coffee drinks - with the exception of anything blended - The Coffee Box offers Italian soda and flavored "moo" or milk, so children can enjoy a treat, too. Johnson said she's going to try to offer blended drinks by summer.

The Coffee Box sells pastries, as well. Johnson picks up scones and muffins daily and has bagels delivered every Tuesday.

"People love treats with their coffee," she said.

While this is her first barista job, Johnson went to Bellissimo Coffee School in Oregon where she picked up a lot of tidbits. Now just operating her business is the best learning experience she could get. She now hopes to expand her operation one day. If that includes a sit-down place she won't be complaining but the kiosks are where her heart is.

"I guess it's because it's how I prefer to get my coffee," Johnson said. "I just don't go to sit down places."

But despite all the hard work Johnson has put into her kiosk and her will to expand, the future of The Coffee Box is uncertain. Last month RED Development said it needs to widen Lincoln Way for the Legends project at the Sparks Marina. To do this, access points to the Shell gas station may be closed forcing Johnson to move her kiosk. But there may not be room for her to move.

"I love it here, I don't want to go anywhere" Johnson said. "This is my little dream."

She then looks around her little kiosk fondly.

"It's cute," she said. "It's got life. I think The Box has an energy."

The Coffee Box is open Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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