Some people need coffee like others need Coke or Mountain Dew, but the main thing all are after is caffeine. The buzz, the wakefulness and mental acuity it provides has catapulted chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, as well as smaller coffee shops.
BrewPass, started by DePaul alumnus Michael Studer, hopes to bring caffeine-addicts and casual coffee drinkers to those smaller shops with a system similar to Starbucks’ rewards system, but at shops with better coffee.
The idea came to Studer over the summer when he saw the success of ClassPass, an online service that gives users discounts to fitness classes around the city after paying a monthly membership fee of $60.
Initially, BrewPass aimed to do the same thing but for businesses; restaurants and coffee shops through the app for members, but after first quarter, results came in that showed most users frequented coffee shops more than the restaurants.
Studer and his team narrowed down the idea and partnered with coffee shops in the Loop and, more recently, in Evanston and on the South Side.
“We wanted to bring people who wanted to go to smaller coffee shops and those coffee shops together. We wanted to be a gateway for that,” Studer said.
After two months, the number of partnerships grew to 17, but competing with the chains-that-shall-not-be-named as well as reward programs and apps similar to their own may prove difficult.
Starbucks has locations all over the city, however, but BrewPass might encourage some coffee drinkers to go out of their way to try new places and use the app.
“I don’t really like Starbucks,” James Niesen, a DePaul graduate student, said. “Everything is packaged and sold in a way that is supposed to appeal to the ideal customer, and I don’t want to think of myself as the ideal customer. (A dollar per coffee) is a pretty good deal and I think that local places have good quality coffee so (the service) could be helpful.”
The $30 a month, use it or lose it subscription rate differs from Starbucks’, which allows you to load money on a card and use it however and whenever you like. There are also Starbucks shops everywhere, sometimes a little too close to one another. But when looking for coffee, proximity matters. Searching for a coffee shop that accepts BrewPass — there are none in the Lincoln Park area yet — may mean doling out money to a chain.
“If this was more widely used, I would probably use both,” Ally George, a DePaul alumna said. “I do what I can to support local businesses and choose the lesser of two evils, but sometimes, I don’t have the headspace to weigh the impact of all my decisions. Sometimes, I just need to access caffeine quickly and easily.”
George would prefer a tiered pricing system, since services are now offered at a flat rate. This would allow the customer to have more control over how much is spent, much like the system Starbucks currently has in place.
Studer understands that BrewPass may not be preferable for everyone, but it may provide better options than the run-of-the-mill menu at the chains that dominate the coffee market.
“It may not be for everyone, but coffee-drinkers should look at how much they spend on coffee. That might help them decide whether or not $30 is a great deal for them,” Studer said. “We hope to get more places near the DePaul campus soon and keep growing.”