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Lisa and Wei Bee

Take that, Starbucks

How Sweetwaters won a north-side spot

by Tony McReynolds

Published in February, 2009

When the developers of Plymouth Green Crossings decided their office-retail mix should include a coffeehouse, they surveyed people in the area about which one they'd like to see move in. "I think [the developers] were expecting more of a national brand," says Lisa Bee, but Starbucks didn't top the list. According to Bee, "Overwhelmingly, people said Sweetwaters."

So the developers assembled a group of investors and approached Lisa and her husband, Wei-they opened the original Sweetwaters at Washington and Ashley in 1993-about buying a franchise. The Bees agreed, and the new Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea was scheduled to open in Plymouth Green Crossings in late January.

It's the second franchise for the coffeehouse: townie Chris Hutton opened the first in Kerrytown in 2005. Unlike Hutton, who runs the Kerrytown store himself, the Plymouth Green Crossings franchisees have no restaurant experience, so they asked the Bees to run the store for them. Lisa says she and Wei will divide their time equally between the downtown and north-side locations.

The cafe will have the same menu of specialty coffees and teas and the same vaguely Asian decor as the original, with lots of blond wood and a tranquil sense of spare, open space. "Sweetwaters is not a hundred percent Asian concept, but definitely we have a lot of Asian influence because we are Chinese," Lisa says. The official grand opening celebration on January 31 is planned to be full-on Asian: it's also a Chinese New Year's celebration with lion dancers, Chinese dancers, Chinese yo-yos, and more.

Lisa says that although she and Wei have other franchises in the works, the process is slow: "We always have people inquiring, and then it takes us some time to work through it to see whether or not we're a good fit for them or they're a good fit for us."

Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, 3393 Plymouth Road, 327-6330. Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m.-11 p.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2009.]


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