Caribou Coffee caffeinates Winona

by Michaela Gaffke

A college student grips their backpack tightly as they approach the doors of the local Caribou Coffee. Meanwhile, a man makes a morning stop at the drive thru on his way to work. A mom in yoga pants holds her kid’s hand as they walk through the door. At Caribou, there’s something for everyone, from the hurried student to the kid who isn’t quite kindergarten age.

“Hello, welcome to Caribou Coffee, are you a perks member today?” a team member wearing a brown Caribou apron greets customers as they come inside.

Koch points out menu items to a customer.


Someone who is in a rush to get their morning caffeine fix may not think about the behind-the-scenes aspect of their coffee stop, and it begins early. The general store manager, Deanna Kaiser, arrives at 5 a.m. on weekdays and 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. Another employee comes in to help her, and together they make the morning espresso and open the register.

Kaiser’s black and neon, handwritten nametag stands out from her brown apron that reads “Caribou Coffee.” Her blonde hair is pulled up into a half pony tail under her drive thru headset, and she is wearing jeans and slip resistant shoes.

Getting up in the morning can be difficult, but you get used to it, one of the team members, Lo Koch, said. She wears a matching apron, nametag, drive thru headset and jeans.

“I’ll go to bed within 7 to 10 p.m. every night,” Kaiser said.

The team members have some time to wake themselves up before the store gets busier.

5:30 a.m. is usually a pretty quiet time, according to Kaiser, the store starts to get busy at 6 a.m. Caribou will have some of its regulars stop in weekday mornings before work.

We have at least 20-25 regulars, maybe more, Kaiser said.

On a snowy Wednesday morning, it is quiet, with a few customers sitting with laptops at tables, sipping their drinks; as the drive thru is more popular. The usual busy time is 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Kaiser said.

On the weekends, Caribou is usually bustling. The drive thru can wrap around the building, and the in-house line can be almost to the door. There are usually three or four employees working at a time on busy days. There are four positions the team members can be assigned to; barista, drive thru, greeter, and floater. Normally there are two people working, one person is the barista, whose job is to make drinks, and the other is doing drive thru and the in-house guests. There can be two greeters and two baristas, but normally there are one of each. The floater is the superglue person, helping out when needed, Kaiser said.

“10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is our busiest time on Sunday. It is a busy day for students, a lot come for an hour, do their homework and leave. Also Friday there are a lot of students, since the [Winona State] library closes at 5 p.m.,” Koch said.

There’s room for about 50 people in-house, Kaiser said, there are about 42 chairs. Customers have a choice in seating, from comfy upholstered seating by the front windows around a fireplace, or the six seats at a bar area, or standard tables on the other side of the fireplace.

Left to right: Kaiser heats up food in the oven while Koch serves a drive thru customer.

In between creating coffees, teas, and smoothies, the team members keep up with stocking the floor and cleaning.

“It can be hard to restock when it’s busy,” Koch said. “Crap, got to run to the back to get chocolate!”

There are three screens that list the current orders, and once the order has been completed, the person who made it taps the touch screen and it disappears. One of the screens is by the drive thru window, one by the cold drink station and the other by the hot drink station.

Kaiser spreads caramel on the Zebra Mocha Cooler with a smile, in her opinion, it is the hardest drink to make.

A problem the team can face is two team members making the same drink on accident, so communicating on who is making what is essential. Double made drinks get tossed out, according to Kaiser.

The supply to make their drinks and the food they serve comes twice a week, Monday and Thursday. Anyone can unpack the shipment, but the team tries to stick to management doing the job. The unpacker must check to make sure everything was received, so the store doesn’t get charged for an item they didn’t receive.

“There’s a warehouse order for cups, syrups, smoothie mix, tea drinks and similar items. There is a dairy order, a gourmet order for sandwich and bakery, and ready to eat bakery case foods, and we get to order how much we think we need,” Kaiser said.

The most common product they run out of are syrups and beans. If this happens, one of the employees has to head to La Crosse or Rochester to another Caribou location to pick up more product.

“We can’t order too much product, because we don’t want it to expire,” Kaiser said.

The backroom at Caribou, where extra stock is stored.

Caribou’s Winona building is fairly new. It opened in January of 2015, the team has the luxury of many storage places. The backroom is filled to the ceiling with stock. Freezers house frozen sandwiches, while the next day’s sandwiches are thawing in the fridge next to it. Silver bags of espresso are stacked to the left, with a tub of chocolate covered espresso beans, juice, cups, toppings and more to the left of the espresso bags.

“We go through at least 14 bags of espresso a week,” Kaiser said, “we are one of the leading stores for espresso sales.”

Each bag is five pounds, and one pound serves 10 small cups, roughly 50 people if everyone orders smalls, according to Kaiser.

After a full day of caffeinating the citizens of Winona, Caribou Coffee closes for the night. On Monday through Thursday, the store closes at 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday is 10 p.m., and 8 p.m. on Sunday.

The closers stock everything, put loose things away, sweep the floors, mop, vacuum, and close the register. They will stay 30-45 minutes after close to do so, Kaiser said, then they lock up and leave.

At the end of the day, Koch and Kaiser they enjoy their jobs.

“I’m a coffee snob,” she laughed. “My favorite part is making drinks. It’s like working at a bar, but coffee.”

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