TO the rescuers of Tully’s Coffee: Welcome.
For 20 years, Tully’s has struggled in the shadow of Starbucks, earning a profit in only one year out of 10. It is a sad record. Liquid caffeine is a moneymaker when done right, and a company with 47 stores plus licensees and franchisees ought to be a going concern.
Tully’s was almost killed in the recession. Since October it has been reorganizing under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy laws, and its assets are on the block. It’s good news that the committee of management and creditors chose the bid by Global Baristas, and even better news if the federal bankruptcy judge approves it.
Global Baristas’ $9 million bid was for all of Tully’s, with the intention of running it as an independent company. That implies preserving jobs, competition and consumer choice.
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Starbucks’ bid was for only some of the stores — the ones Starbucks wants. It is just the sort of bid you would expect from a chain with almost 18,000 stores — not an effort to revive but to pick over a rival’s bones. It is the sort of bid to accept if it is the only bid you have.
Global Baristas’ bid is a statement that competition is important, independent ownership is important and that in the coffee business a medium-sized company can survive. It gives hope to other Seattle companies that foundered during the recession.
That the bidder accepted by the committee is represented by Patrick Dempsey, the actor who plays the doctor dubbed “McDreamy”on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” is a nice touch. Dempsey will not be running the company. He is an investor who has a job in Hollywood. His group needs to find a chief executive officer and give that CEO some headroom.
A bit of advice for the new boss: Stick to coffee. Don’t buy any abandoned breweries.