The story behind Coffee Culture starts like a lot of Corvallis stories: It was 1990, and Paul and Lisa Tostberg were living in Southern California and had just had a baby boy. They were looking for a good place to raise a family.
So they went to the library, started researching good places to do that in the Pacific Northwest and made a list. Then they embarked on a camping trip, 6-month-old son in tow, and hit all the places on the list.
Corvallis won out, but then the next question came up: How to make a living? The Tostbergs were running car washes in California, but that didn't seem a good bet in the rainy Pacific Northwest — not enough customers coming in on a regular basis.
"What we really need is the frequency," Paul Tostberg said. "The regular customers are what you strive for."
Then the Tostbergs noticed an unmet need in the marketplace: There wasn't a drive-through coffee location in Corvallis. And Paul Tostberg, a native of Seattle, knew something about quality coffee, thanks to frequent visits with his parents to Starbucks.
The Tostbergs decided to open a drive-through location in the Timberhill Shopping Center. People told them they were crazy, that they needed to hedge their bets. So they also opened an overnight film developing service. The entire operation went under the name Photo Espresso.
"We knew photo developing was going to be a thing," Lisa Tostberg said, "because digital hadn't become a thing yet."
Of course, digital did become a thing. The photo business faded away.
But Coffee Culture has endured, beating the odds (and increasing competition) to celebrate its 25th anniversary this month.
Today, the business still has that Timberhill location, although no one drops off film anymore. The flagship store is on Kings Boulevard, and it also has stores downtown and on Ninth Street.
The company's newest venture, Holderness Coffee Roasters, is crammed into the back of the Kings Boulevard store. Paul Tostberg said the company is on the lookout for a new location for the roasting operation, but doesn't plan any additional retail stores. (Holderness, by the way, is Tostberg's family name on his mother's side.)
Lisa Tostberg said opening the location on Kings Boulevard was a turning point for Coffee Culture: "That was kind of the key point, the pivot, for the business," she said.
The Tostbergs had been noticing people congregating in cars after getting coffee drinks from the Timberhill kiosk, and thought the market was right for a sit-down location.
They were right, but the Kings location taught them an important lesson about focus. That store used to feature a lunch menu, with panini sandwiches, soups and other cafe fare, but in the fall of 2012, the Tostbergs realized that the lunch menu was pulling them away from their primary business, coffee. So they stopped serving lunch.
"It's risky," Paul Tostberg said of the decision. "It was a little dicey for the first year after we made that changeover."
But it helped clear the way for the start of the Holderness Coffee Roasters business, which supplies coffee beans to other restaurants and retail outlets.
For his part, Paul Tostberg, 61, said he eventually wants to take a step back from the business, maybe in five or so years.
Lisa Tostberg, 56, isn't so sure.
"I don't know," she said. "I love my job. ... What else am I going to do?"