We’re not even through the first month of the year, and already I’ve seen what might end up my favorite story of 2023 (found via Willamette Week): Oregon’s own Dutch Bros. Coffee has a bee problem.
Lots of other people are talking about the Dutch Bros bees. My neighbor, Sarah, found a dead one floating in her chocolate-macadamia Annihilator. My friend Dan, who lives in Tucson, told me that the Dutch Bros in his neighborhood “looked like a scene from that movie The Swarm.” And a former employee of the coffee giant told me she’d signed a nondisclosure form and couldn’t talk to me about bees, then texted me photographs of what she claimed was her left arm, covered in pink, swollen bee stings.
At least when I speak to Loren Franklin, CEO of the Dutch Bros West Valley franchise group, he admits to knowing about the bees. He calls it “an unfortunate multi-faceted problem,” but then refuses to say anything more. A woman named Aleah, who’d worked for the company in Tucson, tells me she signed something after leaving the company and can’t talk to me, though she admits she worked at Dutch Bros in Portland “and we had the bee problem there, too.”
The dumb thing here, or the dumber of various dumb things, is that franchises in Arizona had a solution: Tulip Elmore and her Honey Bee Research Project, which located, rescued, and rehomed entire hives, enabling them to resume engaging in proper, productive bee behavior.
So, naturally, as Dutch Bros. grew as a company, it decided to stop doing any business with Honey Bee Research Project.
“They’re trying to save money by letting me go,” Elmore claims. “But they’ll pay out more in worker compensation claims from employees who get stung. They’ll deal with increased employee turnover because teenagers don’t want to work in a tiny box full of bees. And they’ll lose customers who don’t like finding dead bees in their coffee.”
I’m paranoid as hell of bees, having watch my father for decades never leave the house with the little, leather pouch that was his “sting kit”, but, really: if your business model is interfering with bees being, you know, bees, and contrary to Johnny Dilone of Maricopa County Environmental Services, it isn’t the bees that are the “pests”.