“Going to a ‘coffee’ go-go”


One the first things any traveling urban planner (or traditional tourist) will notice in the MedfordAshland metropolitan area of Southern Oregon is the amazing plethora of freestanding drive-thru coffee shops. They are literally and figuratively everywhere!

To clarify, when I say freestanding, drive-thru coffee shop, I am talking about something akin to the drive-thru  Fotomat stores of my childhood.


A small freestanding, structure (see photos) approximately 10 feet by 15 feet in size. In fact, a quick check of the Medford Code online shows a section on small food vendors that are limited to 128 square feet in size in commercial and industrial zoning districts.

“Small Food Vendor: means any site-built or prefabricated structure that is used for the purpose of preparing, processing or converting food for immediate consumption as a drive-in, drive-through, curb or walk-up service that is a maximum size of 128 square feet and is located on one site or tax lot for any period of 24 hours or more.”

Being the hometown of Biggby, we have a lot of coffee shops here in Greater Lansing, but none to my knowledge that are strictly drive-thrus. There used to be an independent coffee shop drive-thru in Bath Township, but it closed a few years back. Otherwise, all of them here (to date) have sit-down interior dining, with some incorporating a drive-thru window.

By comparison, according to one of the baristas, Dutch Bros. has 18 drive-thru locations in the valley (Medford-Ashland) metropolitan area


2010 population of 207,000. Beyond Dutch Bros. (which is my personal favorite – founded in Grants Pass in 1992), drive-thru locations for The Human Bean (founded in Ashland in 1998), and Black Rock Coffee Bar were observed in the Medford-Ashland area. Interestingly, Seattle-based giant Starbucks does not appear to have a similar concept in Greater Medford, though it does have brick and mortar sites in shopping complexes both with and without drive-thru windows.

Apparently, the retail coffee industry is not alone in the Medford region’s drive-thru market, as I observed both a drive-up deli and a lock and key shop while visiting.

Source: blackrockcoffeebar.com

Other interesting tidbits noted about these drive-up units include:

  • They were most often staffed by two people, especially in the morning.
  • They had two drive-up windows – one on each side of the building to serve vehicles in two directions.

Source: dutchbros.com

  • Most often they were situated on an already developed commercial site and placed in a corner of the parking lot nearest to the principal arterial.
  • All were clean, neat, tidy, and well-maintained.
  • Some had their own freestanding pole sign in addition to the one for the principal land use on the subject site, but occasionally one did not. My guess is this was because the local jurisdiction did not allow a second freestanding sign there.

Once I had noticed these in the Medford-Ashland area, I started seeing them in other cities (Chico, Marysville, Santa Cruz, etc.), but certainly not in the sheer number found in Medford-Ashland. One has to wonder if the Medford-Ashland metropolitan area has one of the highest coffee consumption rates in the country? A quick search on the net found more than 45 coffee shops in the area. It wouldn’t be at all surprised if they don’t already have the largest number of drive-up coffee shops per capita.

Despite their locations in existing parking lots and the addition of another freestanding pole sign, I did not find any of them obtrusive at all. In fact, the drive-up coffee shops were a pleasant addition to the local commercial landscape. So often, large swaths of off-street parking lots sit vacant a large portion of the calendar year, so it was nice to see those areas being occupied rather than requiring these minuscule units to gobble up more green space.

On the flip side, vehicles waiting at a drive-thru idle their engines and pollute while motionless. Since the patron does not have to leave their vehicle, staying in the car contributes to a sedentary lifestyle, which if not countered at other times of the day can lead to weight gain and potential other health issues. Give the number of bicyclists in the observed out West, one would hope they drive-thru’s also serve those of us who enjoy active transportation.

While I am certain The Rolling Stones didn’t have coffee shops (drive-thru or otherwise) in mind when they recorded the hit song below, the subject matter of this blog post immediately reminded me of their classic song “Going to a Go-Go.”

Here are some of my photographs of drive-thru coffee shops taken during my trip to Northern California and Southern Oregon earlier this month.

This entry was posted in architecture, art, cities, coffee shops/cafes, Cuisine, culture, density, economic development, food systems, fun, geography, infrastructure, land use, music, North America, placemaking, planning, spatial design, sprawl, Statistics, sustainability, third places, tourism, transportation, urban planning, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Going to a ‘coffee’ go-go”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Those should be replicated across the nation!


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