By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Elliot Greenberg and his business partner father, David, started searching for a business in which to invest four years ago so they could work for themselves.
“We wanted to do something together and we were looking for the right brand that fit with our core values,” he says. “Obviously, it had to be something that we could 100% support.”
A franchise broker suggested Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea.
“When they said Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, I liked the idea of a coffee and tea concept—even without knowing anything about the brand,” Greenberg says.
“The more we learned about it, the more we fell in love with Sweetwaters. The reviews were unbelievable. I looked at every review for every location. I did a ton of due diligence and market research. The more we kept learning, the more we enjoyed learning about the brand, about the founders, about how many awards they’ve won—all this good stuff.”
After training in Michigan, the duo opened the location in the Airpark at 14850 N. 87th Street, Suite 110.
“When we flew out to Michigan for ‘Meet the Team Day,’ we met the founders, we learned about the brand and we did an actual taste test,” he says. “Up until this point, we had never tasted anything. This was the make-or-break situation. What if you love everything that you’ve heard, but the product is not what it really is? Either you walk away or you move forward.”
In Michigan, the owners did a side-by-side comparison of Sweetwaters coffee and Starbucks, the No. 1 competitor in the world. Greenberg said the difference was night and day.
“We were sold,” he says. “We were sold at that point. We signed the paperwork, and we own a franchise now.”
Looking for the perfect location proved to be daunting. Sweetwaters was founded about 27 years ago by Wei and Lisa Bee in Ann Arbor, near their alma mater, the University of Michigan. There are now cafes across the country—but it was relatively unknown in Arizona. Landlords weren’t interested in talking to owners of a franchise that was unestablished here. Greenberg didn’t have restaurant or franchise experience either.
“All of the real estate brokers who we were working with said, ‘Hey, your first location is hands down going to be the most difficult to find,’” recalls Greenberg, who also works as an IT consultant for hospitals countrywide.
They walked away from their first location in a different city but fell in love with the spot off Raintree Boulevard.
Since it moved in and opened in mid-October, Sweetwaters’ cold brew, which is brewed for more than 18 hours, has been a hit.
“It’s really smooth,” Greenberg says. “There’s no bite. It’s not bitter in any sense. It’s just so smooth.
“Then we have our ‘Straight Up,’ which is smooth, simple cold brew, nothing added, and our ‘Dirty,” which is our cold brew, straight up, with chocolate, espresso and real cream. We focus on real quality, real ingredients. We’re not going for artificial ingredients.”
The menu also includes signature teas like ginger lemon or ginger raspberry, hot or iced; chai, hot or iced; Thai iced tea; and jasmine, passion fruit, imperial black, mandarin orange rooibos iced tea.
Featured premium teas are herbal (Greek mint); green (Emerald Matcha blend and Dragon Pearl Jasmine); black (Earl Grey) and blend (winter blossom).
Catering is available as well. Brewed coffees and tea boxes serve 10, and they stay hot up to two hours.
Community is important to Greenberg as well. He is planning on dropping by local businesses to introduce them to Sweetwaters. They already handed out cold brew bottles for free to a few neighbors.
Sticking with that theme, the Greenbergs collaborated with the Scottsdale Artists League to hang its makers’ artwork in the coffeehouse.
“They supply all the art, and they’ll swap it out every month,” he says. “So, we get free art that’s beautiful on the wall, and the artists get to sell directly to the public. They have a place to show off their art.
“We don’t take any commissions. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
When COVID-19 calms down, he adds, he’s going to have painting classes in the shop as well as planting events with succulents. For the holidays, he’s considering bringing Santa in. The community table at Sweetwaters is perfect for that.
“I want to bring in networking groups or real estate groups,” he says. “This is a free space, and let’s say they go to a Facebook page and reserve the table for an hour or something. It’s going to be free.”
The Greenbergs’ goal is to have 10 Sweetwaters locations around the Valley within the next five to seven years.
“There’s so much room to grow here. I’d love to put a location in Flagstaff and one near the university in Tucson,” he says. “I have a five-year plan.” ν
Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea
14850 N. 87th Street, Suite 110, Scottsdale