Patrick Dempsey’s doing just fine without having to pull a West Coast coffee chain from the brink of extinction. Besides being one of Hollywood’s most seasoned lady killers, he’s still making a fine living for himself as McDreamy on the ABC medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” now in its ninth season. But Dempsey’s not satisfied merely acting. That’s why Global Baristas, LLC — an investor group led by Dempsey — surprised observers by outbidding Starbucks in early January to purchase Tully’s, a small, bankrupt, Seattle-based coffee chain. As a result, when Dempsey’s not filming, he’s likely meeting baristas, visiting cafes, and drinking way too much coffee. In between, he had a few minutes to chat about his latest venture.
JS: Hi, Patrick.
PD: I’m sorry to keep you waiting. We ran late on set.
No problem. Ok. So I’m hoping to chat about why you got involved with Tully’s. So … why did you get involved?
A couple reasons. I always wanted to have a business, and I thought Tully’s would be a great opportunity. It’s a nice challenge. It’s different. And it’s an excuse to go and spend more time in Seattle. It takes the pressure off my day job so I can go and do something else if I want to.
Why did Tully’s go through such financial problems over the last several years?
Well, there’re a lot of reasons. I think obviously mismanagement is one. Overexpansion. And I think confusion on the message of what they wanted to do. I think they were trying to compete too aggressively with Starbucks. Tully’s could never decide where it wanted to be positioned in the marketplace. They had no clear vision. Tully’s was too myopic in focusing on Starbucks, and the company’s strategy of opening a store across the street from every Starbucks was flawed from the start. The company expanded too quickly and got way beyond the tips of their skis.
So you don’t want Tully’s to compete with Starbucks. Do you just want to make Tully’s viable in the locations it’s already in?
We will take a more measured approach. We have no desire to be Starbucks. We want to appeal to consumers that do not want Starbucks. I think there’s a great opportunity for expansion. But I think you have to stabilize what you already have and understand that model first before you can go on. And I think that there are a lot of markets, certainly in Asia, Europe, also other parts of this country as well. But I think what we really have to do is understand what we have, why it’s working and make sure it is working before you do any expansion.
What do you think you can bring to the business that may be different because of your background?
I know what I like. I want to go into a place where I would be comfortable. But stabilizing the company is very important, and making sure all the stores are running smoothly. That means you have to work on the distribution. And certainly the accounting technology needs to be brought up to contemporary standards.
There’s technology out there where you can go, Ok, what did this store do today? What were the numbers compared to yesterday? You can get same-day accounting, which is what we need to do. So if I’m on set and I want to check in the morning how the stores did yesterday, I can see what’s working. If there’s a new product that we’re putting into the marketplace, we can see if that’s succeeded or not very quickly. And the way this company is structured, you can’t do that.
Are there plans to close stores?
At this point, no. What we want to do is really stabilize the stores that we have, freshen them up, really work on the image of Tully’s and just bring some energy into it.
The top people who are there right now – are they going anywhere?
The top people right now we’re getting to know. So yeah, I think right now we have no intention of getting rid of anybody. We need to see what we have, evaluate what’s going on, and then go from there. We just want to make sure that everyone feels safe and secure and stabilized.
Why do you think you can save Tully’s? Some people may look at this and say, well, he’s an actor. He doesn’t know anything about business.
Well, that’s true. But I think being an actor is very much like running your own business. You’re running a private business. I don’t have all the answers. But I know enough to get the right people that do. I’ll make some mistakes, and I’ll learn from them. And, you know, I have a passion towards this. Hopefully that will attract the right people to make it happen.
How are you balancing it with your acting career?
The show’s very excited that this has happened because very early on there has been product placement of Tully’s in the show. And there’s a connection because of us being on a show that takes place in Seattle. There’s a strong connection to the area.
I’ve read how much you love Seattle. How come?
Well, I love the rain. I become much happier when it’s cloudy and it’s raining outside. I think that has a lot to do with growing up in a small town in Maine.
How much coffee do you drink a day?
Oh, a lot. I drink quite a bit.
How many cups?
Oh. Probably about six to 10 cups.
Six to 10 cups? Holy cow.
Yeah. But now I’m drinking more because I’m trying different beans out. And I really want to be certified as a barista.
You want to be certified as a barista.
Ok. That would be fun.
There’s an art form behind it. And I think that’s really important for us and our baristas and the company – to get a sense of competition with the baristas. I think that’s part of the fun of building the brand.
Are you cognizant of not being seen in a Starbucks these days?
You have to go do a recon every now and then, but there are other places I’ll go check out. I’m not a person who went to Starbucks anyway.
Are you planning on changing the coffee itself?
That’s the thing I’m most interested in understanding – the beans, the taste, and the consistency in quality and having an understanding of what it is that our customers want from us. It’s very simple. You want to provide a good cup of coffee.
You’re talking about consistency from store to store?
Yeah. You have to have consistency. People really love the coffee already, and I think you take what you have and you build on that.
Alright, Patrick. Well, I think that’s all I need.
Well, great, man. Thanks for taking the time. And I’m sorry to keep you waiting.
No, no worries.
Alright. And do you have any advice?
I will say that here in New York, there are tons of cafes here – and I don’t know how Tully’s does it, but I like the pour-over method. Does Tully’s do that?
I think some of the stores do a little bit. The pour-over method is very good. The question is the turnover of that. You got to be very patient.
It takes longer. Definitely.
It takes much longer. But you know, I think that’s the thing you have to cater towards. There are going to be people that are going to come in who are on a mission to get a cup of coffee and then go. And then someone’s coming in for the ritual of having a cup of coffee. And then there’s someone coming in for the social element. So how do you take care of all of those people?
There are cafes here that sort of do both. And the pour-over cup – it takes longer and it’s a little more expensive.
And I like that, too. Sometimes I want to go and hang out and read the paper or read a book. Or I’m going to meet a friend and hang out. And you love the ritual of that. Intelligentsia has a great pour-over thing. And there’s some great stuff in New York as well. The little boutique-y places.
Yeah. So how do you bring a little bit of that to Tully’s is going to be the challenge.
Well, I look forward to seeing what you do.
Right on. I hope it’s good.
Well, good luck. And thanks.
Thank you. Have a good weekend.