Before Starbucks and coffee shops took up every half mile of town, Richard’s Fine Coffees was introduced to the city … though its founder and owner goes by a different name.
Originally from Schenectady, New York, Dave Tuttle has spent most of his life in Winter Haven. And what Dave brought to Winter Haven has no doubt continued to engage the city for over 20 years.
“After working for Scotty’s,” says Tuttle, (Scotty’s was a home builder supply based out of Winter Haven) that’s where we first got started.” Scotty’s had been bought out, and Tuttle had left the company, seeking to bring something to Winter Haven that the city didn’t already have.
SEEKING SOMETHING NEW
“I was actually looking at the bagel business,” says Tuttle, “because there weren’t any here. We traveled up the East Coast looking for bagel outfits, to try to understand the business, and everywhere we looked we saw espresso. We began looking into espresso and gourmet coffee and realized there wasn’t a single coffeehouse in Polk County. So we started shifting gears and looking at that, and decided that was the direction we wanted to take.”
Of course, since a bit of a coffee revolution has taken place in the nation, the likes of Lakeland and Winter Haven have followed suit. But, just prior to this awakening to a quality, marketable cup of coffee that anyone would be willing to spend more than $1.25 for, Tuttle opened up Richard’s Fine Coffees. “Back in those days there were no true coffeehouses in Polk County. There were several independents that opened up shortly after. But, of course, now there’s a lot of them everywhere.”
The shop’s first location was on Central Avenue, in what was the old Arcade building right across from Ritz theatre, where a quaint tea shop currently resides.
Tuttle’s first space was a considerably small operation compared to the current offerings and following of Richard’s Fine Coffees. “We selected that particular location in Winter Haven because we didn’t know what we had ahead of us. And it was very inexpensive to open up there.”
THE REAL RICHARD
Some may be surprised to discover that the owner of Richard’s Fine Coffees, is in fact, not named Richard.
“Back when we were putting this together, my father in-law came down with Parkinson’s. And, as we were trying to develop a name for [the coffeehouse], we decided to name it after him as a tribute.”
Over 20 years ago, when finalizing the building and name in their current location, Richard was able to attend the opening without the slightest hint of the recognition he was about to receive.
“He lived out of town at the time, and we brought him in from Melbourne to come to the grand opening,” says Tuttle.” He had no idea we had named it after him. So, when he came in and saw his name on the canopy, it brought tears to his eyes.” Richard passed away just a few years after attending the opening. Clearly Tuttle felt the timing was no coincidence. “And ‘Dave’s Coffee’ just doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it,” he plainly states.
When asked if he’d considered his name first for the shop, he replies laughing, “Yeah, for about three seconds!”
AN EDUCATION IN COFFEE
At the time, downtown wasn’t quite the place it’s become in recent years. “Downtown at that time was dilapidated,” says Tuttle. “So, when we opened, we received a lot of great fanfare, but what we learned was nobody really understood what a coffeehouse was. They didn’t understand there was quality coffee, lattes, mochas, cappuccinos.”
For products that have yet to be widely marketed by mainstream brands, most local businesses are aware of the risk of convincing customers the quality of a product is worth the listed price. Then again, this is why local business is such a risk. It’s a hurdle few survive. Yet it’s just what Tuttle and Richard’s Fine Coffees have done. Though, he is not shy in admitting it was no walk in the park.
“They didn’t understand that coffeehouses were a social environment where people could sit and meet. So it took several years for us to educate the market about who we were and what we offered. We spent the first few years [doing that], but at that time we didn’t have blended beverages, we didn’t have lunch products, we didn’t have sandwiches and salads, we didn’t have ice cream. It was a much smaller menu.”
In recent years, with the additions of snacks and treats, Richard’s Fine Coffees continues to find ways to expand what the city may want from a local coffeehouse. “We just brought our ice cream in [made in St. Petersburg] because of our proximity to the library — all the moms would bring kids in and we thought it would be a good attraction to have ice cream, which it has been.” No doubt, since ice cream is a hit year-round in any Florida shop.
MOVING WITH THE TIMES
“Over the years, we’ve had to adapt and change. Everyone does,” says Tuttle. Sourcing from the highest-rated roasters in the country, he confesses, “Considering the fact that when I was growing up I drank Maxwell House and thought that was good coffee until we got into this…. My tastes have changed.”
And clearly so have the tastes of the general public. But, over the years, as mainstream coffee brands have developed flavors, roasts, and blends, Richard’s Fine Coffees has sought to follow the evolution of tastes in the industry.
“We had to start out years ago with more of a lighter roast, because even a lighter roast in our business was much stronger than what people were used to from a restaurant or fast food place. As the years have gone on, we’ve offered not just a light roast, but a medium roast and dark roast, just to cover the whole gamut of tastes. We also offer a huge variety of flavored coffees that are very popular, including seasonal flavors such as Maple White Chocolate and Pumpkin Spice.”
Currently, most of the buzz is over their latest addition of Nitro Cold Brew. Tuttle says, “It’s a craft coffee that’s taken the country by storm. We’ve had it for about a year now.”
“Ninety percent of our customers are regulars,” says Tuttle. “We know who they are; we call them by name. We don’t have to ask what they’re having when they walk in.
“This guy Nello,” says Tuttle, pointing to a gentleman situating himself for a morning coffee and newspaper read. “This is his table. We’re sitting at his table. Normally we’d get up so he can have his table. [‘We’re not going to do that now,’ says Tuttle] But that’s what we do. And we know exactly what he drinks. He gets a New York Times every day, and that’s why he comes every day.”
Though the store is flooded with customers from morning through the afternoon, Tuttle is quick to admit the biggest hurdle is to encourage locals to continue to buy local and do business with local independents. “These local merchants employ a lot of their kids, their wives, or their husbands. So that’s we do constantly — exist to encourage people to buy local.”
As for Tuttle’s choice of brew, the founder of Richard’s Fine Coffees admits, “I do change to seasonal beverages from time to time, but overall I stick to black coffee. Strong.”
When something is good, it’s good to know it’s consistent.