I Miss My Caribou

by Weam Namou

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Caribou Coffee on Rochester Rd in Troy had been my stop for over fifteen years where I ordered my favorite Carmel High Rise with nonfat milk. The place resembled a log cabin and had the friendliest baristas. One of the guys there, Aaron, had been there since I could remember. Though he didn’t pronounce it right, he knew me by name. “Hi, Weem,” he would say, which was close enough.

During the winter I’d sit at the table near the fireplace and during summertime, I’d sit at the table near the windows. Sometimes in the summer, I’d sit outside. I loved the place. There were daily trivia on the board and if you guessed the right answer, you got ten cents off your drink – which at approximately $4.00 and up a drink wasn’t much, but that’s beside the point. There was another board where customers used chalk to finish sentences like “I stay awake for….” The Caribou cups and napkins were unique in that they also had words-to-live-by that were made by average people. There was also a picture of John and Kim Puckett, the founders of Caribou, and their story.

John and Kim Pucket were newlyweds, backpacking through Alaska in 1990 when on the summit of Sable Mountain in Denali Park, they decided they wanted to build a company to capture the spirit of accomplishment they felt during the climb. They began plans to build a special company that would bring the mountain experience into local neighborhoods where customers could find a place to “escape the daily grind” each and every day. On the descent, they saw a herd of wild caribou. The beauty and incessant movement of these caribou seemed to be a fitting name for a company that aspired to both rapid growth and high quality.

The Pucketts sold their interest in the company in 1998 for $120 million to Atlanta-based Crescent Capital, which has since changed its name to Arcapita. Since opening, the chain has expanded to 415 locations in 16 states and the District of Columbia, making it the second-largest operator of non-franchised coffeehouses in the United States, after Starbucks Corporation.

Two weeks ago when I went to Caribou I noticed the tables were dramatically moved around and it just didn’t have the same feel. For that reason, when I was heading there Sunday morning, I considered if I should go to Panera Bread instead. The idea was playing in my head when I noticed that Caribou was shut down. It had closed. I kept driving, thinking of all those years that I sat in that place writing novels, poetry, essays, articles, scripts, memoirs, query letters, homework assignments and grant proposals.

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