Photo Credit: 
Chronicle photo by Curtis Awbrey
To brighten a bleak morning, Viridian Coffee crew members at the Second Street location in Lawton serve fresh specialty drinks to guests dur- ing their commute on Thursday, Oct. 24. From left are Whitney Britton, Shay Hayes, Heather Wheeler and Trinity Martin.
To brighten a bleak morning, Viridian Coffee crew members at the Second Street location in Lawton serve fresh specialty drinks to guests dur- ing their commute on Thursday, Oct. 24. From left are Whitney Britton, Shay Hayes, Heather Wheeler and Trinity Martin.

LAWTON - For years, coffeehouses have served as one of the most popular venues for social interaction around the world. High school and college students come for a place to study; many professionals come to meet with clients and colleagues; and others come just for the coffee and atmosphere.

When Viridian Coffee owner Shay Hayes noticed the “coffee desert” in southwest Oklahoma, he and his wife Lindsay set out to give coffee drinkers what they deserve – opening locations in Lawton and Duncan. But that was just the beginning.

Viridian plans to open 20 coffeehouses by 2026, Hayes confirmed. The company’s fourth location is expected to open by early April. Hayes is looking in the vicinity of U.S. 81 and I-44, in Chickasha, and he believes a new 2,500- 3,000 square-foot facility with a 12-to 20-vehicle drive-thru would be ideal.

Hayes stated that Chickasha officials pursued Viridian Coffee. According to an Oct. 22 article in The Chickasha Express-Star, Viridian received an $85,000 economic development incentive from the  City of Chickasha to help with construction costs, pending location. “People are excited about what we’re doing, and we’re well-received,” said Hayes.

Shay and his wife Lindsay started Viridian Coffee because southwest Oklahoma was a coffee desert, he said. “We invested and launched in 2016, focused solely as a coffee roastery. We were roasting fresh, organic, globally grown coffee direct to our consumers through farmer's markets as well as through our website,” he said.

The couple soon realized there was more than just a demand for bags of coffee they could take home. They opened a drive-thru in Duncan in November 2016. During the summer of 2017, the couple opened coffeehouses in Lawton, 5366 NW Cache Road, and Duncan, 1460 W. Main Street. The third location, 343 NW 2nd Street in Lawton came in December 2018.

With a relaxed atmosphere and ambient music, coffeehouse guests can visit with one another over their favorite beverages. The coffeehouses are also great places for meetings and small social gatherings. A knitting and crocheting group meet at one of the Lawton locations each week, said Hayes.

Each location requires a general manager, several high-value full-time positions that include assistant managers, approximately seven-team leads, and then the rest of the staff are baristas and support staff. “We are really excited about how we’re able to support somebody that’s looking for a full-time opportunity and progress towards a career at Viridian Coffee,” Hayes said. “We’re also able to take part-time individuals – whether they’re students, parents or those who are just looking for a second job. But we do have an extremely high level of training that goes into every position.

“When I got out of the Army, I said that I would never drink another bad cup of coffee again,” said Hayes. In Germany, Hayes fell in love with the café environment. Drinking great coffee while sitting on the streets was an experience he truly enjoyed. “I could sit down at a table,  engage in conversation with people and enjoy life,” he added. “In southwest Oklahoma, we really didn’t have that opportunity. We didn’t have fresh, locally roasted coffee, and we were missing out.”

Viridian’s objective is to serve people great coffee,” Hayes emphasized. “Every detail matters. We want the guest who comes to Duncan to get their specialty drink to get the exact same quality drink in Lawton, Chickasha or any of our locations. All our coffee is imported from tropical countries around the world; we currently import from six of them: Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Sumatra, Ethiopia and Kenya.” All but Kenya produces completely organic coffee beans, said Hayes.

“We’re going to look to what the consumer desires. Whatever they ask for, we’re going to see if we can deliver. What we have found in our rural markets of southwest Oklahoma, there’s a taste for specialty coffee, but the majority just want a good cup of coffee at a reasonable price. If they’re asking for a particular style or type of coffee, we will deliver that. “We make all of our food products in-house.

In our roastery, we have a full-service bakery. We bake all our products fresh seven days a week and deliver to our stores. We have our own internal delivery service that runs between all our locations. We are introducing this fall craft beer and wine to all of our cafés, and we will open in Chickasha with craft beer and wine in April,” he added. The company is looking to open two coffeehouses next year, and two more in 2021. Hayes said they would like to open four cafés a year and reach 20 coffeehouses throughout the region.

“Our focus right now is underserved communities that don’t really have a local coffeehouse,” he said. “Eventually, we do intend to go into the bigger cities. There’s absolutely no comparison,” he stated. “Once you’ve had fresh locally roasted coffee, your perspective of what value and quality comes with coffee will forever be changed.”