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Why Hollywood Video founder Mark Wattles is starting a new coffee empire far from Oregon – Portland Business Journal

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  • May 23, 2018
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Mark Wattles, the founder of the Oregon-based and now-defunct Hollywood Video, is back in Portland headlines this week with the news that he’s finally going to sell his riverfront property in West Linn.

But just because Wattles never finished the 50,000-square-foot home on the property over the past nearly 20 years doesn’t mean he hasn’t been around the Beaver State much. In fact, he spends a third of his time in West Linn still, while also living for stretches in Dallas, Texas, and in a home in Punta Mita, Mexico.

"I’m still a part of Oregon. It’s home," he said. "There will probably never be a time when I’m not spending at least some time in Oregon."

Even so, Wattles, who has also found some success in the restaurant and hospitality business over the years, has chosen another locale far from Oregon for his next endeavor, a Dutch Bros-inspired coffee company called 151 Coffee. It already has one location open in Dallas and is on track to open four others in Texas and Colorado by year’s end. He spoke tho the Business Journal this week about that endeavor and why he’s launched it elsewhere.

How did this coffee company idea come about? When I started Hollywood Video, I was always fascinated with Starbucks. They had one huge benefit over us in that they were in an industry that was going to grow and I was in one that was going to be taken over by technology. They may not have the best product, but I have always been an admirer.

A company that has equally fascinated me is Dutch Bros. They may not have the greatest product either, but boy do they have a great culture. They treat the franchisees incredibly, and the culture is just really friendly to these young people who work for them. So from the culture standpoint, I’m going to go into Texas and do the same thing. I may not do it as well as they do, but because of my food and beverage background, I know how to execute.

There’s a focus on a youthful culture, it seems. The core of my wealth was built by a bunch of 20-year-olds who came to work for me, and they worked hard. I only have a high school education, but I always had the belief that hard work would allow you to grow and be successful, and those 20-year-olds who started out as cashiers were a big part of that. That’s always been one of the most personally satisfying aspects of my career.

At 151 Coffee, the younger folks help maintain the energy level. You go to the store — there’s no inside seating — and there’s a sliding glass door. They walk out to your car and you’re sitting their watching them make your coffee. They play loud music, so the kids are on fire and energetic.

Are your customers largely young? My theory was that I can do more than attract just 25-year-olds, but people my age as well. I’m always curious to see 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds there. I think it’s just refreshing to come here and have baristas who like what they’re doing. As long as their music isn’t terribly offensive, they can play it. All that allows them to have a better experience with the customer.

Why start it in Dallas instead of Portland? With this one, the thought was more around, if it’s successful, where would the ideal place be for a corporate headquarters for a massive chain. Atlanta looked good, but Dallas was really ideal. It’s not quite as pretty as Portland, but it’s easier to recruit people. My summary of Portland is that it’s hard to recruit people here, but it’s an easy market to keep them in.

The 151 Coffee website says you plan to have 50 stores open by the end of 2020. Is the goal to build another Hollywood Video kind of chain? The first store opened earlier this year, and a second one will open in a couple weeks. We’ll have stores three, four and five at the end of the year. If it continues to work as well as it has, I’ll continue to plow capital into it. Whether I do 10 stores or 10,000, I don’t know, but I’m having fun with the first part of this so far.

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