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船isloyalty' program gives jolt to D.C. coffee shops

Tuesday - 1/14/2014, 8:58am  ET

The Coffee Bar is one of six locally-owned coffee shops participating in a new 'disloyalty' program. The program encourages csutomers to try out other D.C.-based coffee businesses. (Courtesy The Coffee Bar/Marine Jaoeun)

Coffee drinkers show their support by being disloyal

WTOP's Rachel Nania reports


A new 'disloyalty' program creates a buzz in the District

WTOP's Rachel Nania reports


WASHINGTON - A customer loyalty card-of-sorts is creating quite a buzz among D.C.'s coffee drinkers.

That's because the card doesn't encourage patrons to be loyal to any one shop. Rather, it encourages them to be "disloyal" to their routine shops and to branch out and try other locally owned coffee businesses.

"Instead of visiting your neighborhood shop six times, you can go out to six different shops all around D.C.," says Dawn Shanks, a barista at Peregrine Espresso.

Shanks launched the Disloyalty Card program Jan. 6 with Peregrine co-worker Christy Pelton and six locally- owned coffee shops in the District, including Peregrine Espresso, Filter, The Coffee Bar, Chinatown Coffee Company, La Mano Coffee and Blind Dog Caf.

The participating shops give the Disloyalty Cards to their customers upon purchase of a drink. When customers visit the other five locally-owned coffee shops for a drink and they collect a signature on the card (one from every shop), they receive a complimentary coffee from any of the participating shops.

Shanks and Pelton designed and printed 500 Disloyalty Cards and distributed them among the participating shops last week. As of Jan. 12, all of the cards were gone.

"I was so surprised how quickly those cards got snapped up," Shanks says.

But Shanks, 28, says not to worry. Another batch of the cards is already on the way.

Cait Lowry, owner of The Coffee Bar on S Street, NW, says participating in the Disloyalty Card program is a great way to collaborate with other independent coffee shops in the District.

D.C. baristas Dawn Shanks and Christy Pelton hold up their program, The Disloyalty Card. (Courtesy Jay Nelson)

"We, as a coffee community, are a close-knit group, and we really want to kind of further the cause, so we thought it would be a great way just to get people to experience all of the shops in town," says Lowry, who opened The Coffee Bar in December 2012.

Lowry, 31, says the cards have also brought a new wave of customers to her shop, which is off-the-beaten-path. All of her Disloyalty Cards were "snatched up" on the first day she received them.

"We're tucked away, a little bit, so it was great to have people who are customers at other shops say, 前h I wonder where this place is. I've never been there or heard of it.' And for them to show up and say, 践ey, this is so nice. I didn't know you were here.'"

In return, Lowry encourages her customers to go visit all of the other independent coffee cafes in the area.

"It's a nice way to get to know other coffee shops," she says.

Javier Rivas is one of the owners of La Mano Coffee, a newer shop that opened in September 2013 in Takoma, D.C. He decided to participate in the program to help elevate the craft coffee products in all of the local shops.

"It's pretty fun for the person with the card," Rivas says. "You can go on a little coffee adventure and get to know areas of D.C. that you might not usually get to go to."

The Coffee Bar's Lowry says the Disloyalty Cards are just another sign that D.C.'s coffee scene is growing.

"I think it shows that we've established ourselves, that, hey, we are a serious coffee town," Lowry says. "We are getting talented baristas and we are interested in really dedicating ourselves to craft coffee."

Shanks agrees. She says the growth of D.C.'s interest in craft coffee is definitely one reason she decided to start the program.

Shanks first got the idea for the Disloyalty Card from a barista in London who started a similar program a few years ago.

"Since then, so many awesome coffee people have set up similar programs in their cities. It's a really, really fun project and D.C.'s coffee community is just such a thriving one that I wanted to bring a card to D.C.," Shanks says.

While the current program is limited to the six participating shops, Shanks says she could see future "disloyalty" programs expanding to include additional shops in the District, as well as "lots of really great shops" in Maryland and Virginia. But as of now, she doesn't have any solid plans in the works.

"I think that anything that gets people thinking about specialty coffee and supporting local businesses in D.C., I would definitely love to collaborate," Shanks says.

The cost of starting the Disloyalty Card program was minimal, and Shanks collected a small amount from each of the shops to help cover the cost of printing. For the customer, the cost of the card is just the purchase of a beverage.

"Everybody was really supportive and on-board. I loved going around to all of the shops and talking to them. They all wanted the card to succeed; it was a really positive reception."

And despite the fact that some media outlets say the Disloyalty Card is a direct plan to "fight back" or "lash out" at Starbucks and other national chains, Shanks says that is absolutely not the intent of the program.

"I firmly believe that specialty coffee is a catalyst for positivity in communities. I hope people participating in the program come to find the same," she says.

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