Aroma Joe’s in Orono celebrated its one-year anniversary, Friday Oct. 2., with an all-day event that featured free coffee, giveaways and live music.
The celebration featured free 16-ounce hot or iced coffees, door prizes including raffles for $50 gift cards and a giveaway for a free case of Rush, the store’s signature energy drink. Bangor radio station Z107.3 live-broadcasted the event and local artists performed unplugged.
The chain coffee shop, which opened in Fall 2014, has seen booming business in its first year, according to Joanne Buteau, the store’s manager.
“We exceeded all the expectations of what they expected us to do for business,” Buteau said.
The celebration comes as Aroma Joe’s also celebrates its 15-year anniversary. The first Aroma Joe’s opened in Rochester, N.H. in 2000. Since then, the store has expanded throughout New Hampshire and Maine and recently opened a store in Florida, Buteau said.
“Aroma Joe’s is expanding like crazy,” Buteau said. “They hadn’t had one this far north. The closest one to us is Waterville and they wanted to get up here. It was a really good location.”
“College students are a hard crowd to predict, but the opening was insanity,” she said.
The opening of Aroma Joe’s last fall was a welcome addition to Orono by many, from college students to community members.
“We do really well with high school, college-aged students and obviously UMaine’s a huge campus,” Allison Goodridge, a recent University of Maine graduate and daughter of Orono Aroma Joe’s owner, Loren Goodridge, said. “We really like having the cafe where students can just come in and study and do their work and everyone seems to enjoy that.”
“I think it’s been really positive in the college community. Now, people from around town are starting to explore us,” Buteau said.
In its first year, Aroma Joe’s has done more than sell coffee. The store has donated coffee to many community and other charity events, including Old Town Riverfest, which was held on Sept. 27. The store has also provided coffee and baristas to runners at the Black Bear Marathon in June and to events held by the Orono Historical Society.
“I’d always like us to get more involved in the community. I feel like if I want Orono and Old Town people to come to us, we should be getting out there and doing stuff with them,” Buteau said.
The store also has been using neon pink straws to raise awareness about breast cancer and is now beginning a program called “Travel the World,” which features coffees from around the world. Half the money from each case of coffee purchased goes back to regional charities. The first coffee in the “Travel the World” rotation is from Ethiopia, and money will go to benefit Ethiopian orphanages.
Despite a successful year, concerns were raised over the opening of a Dunkin’ Donuts directly next to Aroma Joe’s, but Buteau asserted she’s not concerned.
“Honestly, [business has] been about the same,” Buteau said. “With the Dunkin’ Donuts, they serve kind of a different crowd and they’re more about speed and just kind of getting [coffee] out there.
“We’re kind of a different crowd — we want to slow it down a little bit. We still try to get drinks out quickly, but we want people to stay around and we try to make small talk,” Buteau continued. “If it was a Starbucks next door, I think I’d be concerned.”
Buteau believes the Aroma Joe’s business model is unique because of the personal connections formed with customers. The store places emphasis on employee-customer interaction.
“People pull up to the window, we smile at them, we can chat it up. Small talk is part of the job. We want them to leave happier because they came here,” Buteau said.
“I don’t come here a lot, but when I do, it’s good coffee,” Kate Cutting, a third-year nutrition student, said at the one-year anniversary event. “It’s more laid back and I like that better. Dunkin’ Donuts is just kind of more systematic, like they just go through the motions. I feel like they don’t care about the quality as much [as Aroma Joe’s].”
“[Joanne is] amazing,” Meredith Lee, a Milford resident and employee at the university’s Office of Financial Aid, said at the celebration. “She knows what I like. Every time I come through the drive-thru, she’s great.”
With business not showing signs of slowing down, Buteau and Goodridge hope the company continues to grow. Buteau would like to see an Aroma Joe’s open in Bangor, as long as it can continue to make people feel welcomed.
“We really pride ourselves on making sure every customer’s experience is the best it possibly can be,” Goodridge said.