Finding a coffee house in Washington is like finding a rock at the lake – there is one at every turn. But not all coffee shops are created equal, and, just like rocks, some can turn out to be true gems. That is definitely the case with the Route 99 Coffee House off of Old Highway 99. One visit was all it took for me to know I would definitely be back.
Originally from Texas, Alyssa Nereim and her father, Scott Elliot, were regulars of the coffee place when they moved to a street just off Highway 99 not far from the stand. Two years ago, the former owner told them she was going to sell and asked if they would be interested. “I had taken business classes and had also been a barista. I absolutely loved it, and knew I wanted to do that again,” says Alyssa. “So my father and I talked about it, and we decided to go for it.” Scott helped her through the process, but Alyssa owns the coffee house independently with her husband Kyle. Kyle works at Bruce-Titus in Olympia, however, and so you won’t often see him at the shop.
Alyssa says that being a barista is not the same as owning a business. “I didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into,” she says about her first years as a business owner. “I had a decent idea as far as the paperwork, but it was definitely more than I had anticipated with the permits and licensing and keeping up to code on everything. Keeping track of everything was difficult at first.”
The original owner had kept the menu fairly simplistic, and that was something that Alyssa wanted to change. “We wanted to add more to the menu, based on customers’ wants and current coffee trends,” she explains. She changed the brand of syrup that was being used but kept the coffee the same. “One thing we were really excited about – and still are – is using Olympia Coffee Roasting Company coffee,” she adds. “They are an awesome local roaster, and not a lot of stands use their coffee. I really respect how they do business.” Alyssa and her two employees have all taken Olympia Coffee’s barista training as well, which teaches them the proper way to pull the shots, latte art and more. She also acquires her food items from local places including 8 Arms Bakery and Johnson’s Smokehouse.
On August 1, 2017 Alyssa celebrated two years of owning Route 99 Coffee House. She says her success has largely been based on the relationships she forms with her customers. Because it is just Alyssa, one regular employee Crystal and her long-time friend Chris, who helps out when Crystal is not available, running the coffee house, the customers really get to know them and vice versa. “I know who I am going to see Monday through Friday and on Saturday,” Alyssa says. “And when you don’t see someone for a few days, you start to wonder. They really are like extended family. I know their names and what their kids are up to. I know what drinks they like.”
It is this personable atmosphere, something you would not expect from a drive-through service, that keeps customers coming back. “Alyssa and Crystal are the nicest girls,” says Shannon C., a loyal customer of Route 99 Coffee House. “I love that I can come up and say I don’t know what I want, and they make me something perfect every time. They’re funny, kind and the coffee rocks, too.”
Alyssa definitely seems to be a pro at knowing what to give someone to drink. If you are not sure, just tell her the types of flavors you like – sweet, savory, spicy – and she can come up with a concoction you are sure to love. “Great girls, good specials, love the coffee. They always have helpful suggestions when I can’t make up my mind,” says Corey L., another regular.
And if for some reason you do not care for your drink, they will make it right. “I tell my customers to be honest and let me know if it’s not right,” she says. “Criticism is helpful and keeps us making a quality product. But it doesn’t happen very often.” Another part of Alyssa’s stellar service – they put iced drinks in a cup one size larger, so that you are still getting a full-sized drink when the ice is added. What other coffee shop does that?
Route 99 Coffee House has over 60 syrup flavors to choose from, including unique ones such as shortbread, lavender, rose and cheesecake, making the drink combinations almost limitless. She has non-coffee drinks on the menu as well. Alyssa also offers some unique specialties including Nutella mochas, frozen lemonade (non-coffee), blended Red Bull drinks and a Harry Potter-inspired “butter beer” latte, which I personally tried. It was amazing. It has just the right mix of sweet and a hint of spice thanks to the cinnamon sprinkled on top. The coffee is smooth and not at all acidic.
You also will not find any burnt shots here as Alyssa and her team recalibrate the machine every couple hours to ensure a good shot. A personal favorite of Alyssa, for those not wanting coffee, is her blended creamcicle, which reminds her of those little orange and white ice cream cups with the wooden spoons she would get at school.
So while there may be coffee shops a stone’s throw from each other, Route 99 Coffee House stands out as a place where you will not only be served an excellent drink but make a new friend as well. “I really enjoy Alyssa, Crystal and Chris,” says Amy B.L. “They’re so nice to see early in the morning with smiles on their faces. I love that they use Olympia Coffee Roasting Companuy coffee; not many places have it and it’s amazing!”
Route 99 Coffee House
8435 Old Highway 99 SE (right next to Kipert’s Korner Feed)