Ooh La Latte may be gone, but there will still be ample skin in Missoula's coffee community. The locally owned kiosk, which blended scantily clad women with morning mochas, was bought out earlier this month by Seattle-based Baristas, which has a business model that's just as unclothed.
Baristas CEO Barry Henthorn describes his kiosks as costume-themed "entertainment." Take March 26. It's sports day for most Baristas locations. In Seattle, baristas are dressed in Seahawks or Sonics attire. At the Missoula location, on Harrier Drive near Montana Harley-Davidson, which reopened as Baristas March 5, Henthorn says the girls could be sporting Maulers outfits.
"Of course, I'm sure it would have a lot of cuts from some scissors in it before it would be something they'd wear," he adds.
The company's second location, behind the Lucky Strike Casino on Russell Street, is set to open under the new name next week.
Ooh La Latte was a bit of a shock to Missoula when it opened two years ago. Co-owner Tim Wilson wasn't shy about the "wow" factor. Missoula still hasn't seen the boom in lurid kiosks that Seattle has in recent years.
The shock is somewhat ironic, Henthorn says, considering the glut of other Seattle coffee kiosks that boast female baristas in little more than body paint, glitter and thongs. "We've been welcomed as a classy alternative and a classy twist to something that was kind of a phenomenon in the Seattle area," he says.
Baristas has expanded over the past six months, opening kiosks in Florida, Texas, Arizona and New Jersey. Henthorn is eyeing additional locations in Oregon. Emmy-winning M&M Productions is even shooting a reality TV show about the company. Baristas says it will profile the "fierce competition" among employees, as well as the challenges in expanding the business.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries investigated 16 complaints against Baristas last fall. Employees claimed they didn't always get paid, and that when they did, the company's checks were often unsigned or bounced. The U.S. Department of Labor independently sued Baristas in October for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act dating back to August 2009. DOL filed for back wages and damages linked to poor record-keeping and unpaid overtime, and separately assessed the company $42,075, alleging the violations were willful.
Henthorn has stated publicly that the company is working to resolve these issues. As for any feathers ruffled in Missoula over the continued sexification of coffee, he says the Baristas model is "not for everybody."