Ravensara and SR-302: Sipping Coffee and Sitting in Traffic

Confronted with one road improvement after another on SR-302, Ravensara Espresso is still serving daily drive-thru commuters after 23 years.


Legend has it, in the late 1990s a hippie woman walked into an empty building at the intersection of 118th Avenue NW and State Route 302. She wanted to open a coffee shop like no other on the Key Peninsula. Floral decor and tapestries throughout. Incense in the air. Free-spirited atmosphere. And to bring some meaning to this new-found opportunity, she named it after her two daughters: Raven and Sara.

“It’s an interesting story,” said Tara Froode, the longtime owner of Ravensara Espresso. “I used to get asked all the time, ‘Which one are you? Raven or Sara?’ ”

She’s neither. In fact, there is no Raven or Sara. Her mom, Jody Stark, who used to co-own the coffee shop with her, isn’t even a hippie. And there’s a good chance you’ve been calling it the wrong name all this time. It’s actually pronounced “rah-VUHN SAH-rah,” named for an endangered tree in Madagascar that produces an essential oil of the same name. In aromatherapy, ravensara oil has properties that are energizing and euphoric — two qualities the mother and daughter team thought were comparable with the Key Peninsula.

“I think because we use organic, free-trade products, people just assume a hippie owns it.”

It is true that most of Ravensara’s products are more natural. Yes, Tara (coincidentally pronounced TAH-rah) Froode does have a degree from the University of Washington-Tacoma in Environmental Studies. And sure, they serve some gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian made-from-scratch soups. Not to mention 3 Clouds Bakery, located inside Ravensara, which offers daily fresh-baked goods using high-quality ingredients. But that hardly qualifies as “hippie,” she said.

Froode understands that natural and organic isn’t everyone’s cup of tea — which Ravensara also serves — and says there are enough coffee stands on the Key Peninsula to meet everyone’s taste.

Location was important when she and her mother became interested in this building in 1999. It was formerly occupied by Purdy Pictures, a take-out pizza restaurant, but old-timers fondly remember it as Collins Grocery and Gas. They knew a majority of their drive-thru-only traffic would be from those leaving the Key Peninsula going toward Gig Harbor, so a place where traffic can make a right-turn-in and a right-turn-out was, well, key.

But this location has also been a thorn in Froode’s side the last three or more years. Ravensara Espresso is smack-dab in the middle of the three-year project to open habitat for native fish in Minter Creek and Little Minter Creek. Bridge and culvert work the last few summers have required long periods of around-the-clock closures of the section of SR-302 that Ravensara calls home. That came on the heels of widening SR-302, reconfiguring the drive-thru, and adding left turn lanes onto 118th before that.

Froode said her sales are down 25% over last year because of the August and September closures. “When you’re a drive-thru business, you need volume to make money,” she said. “People who are waiting 15 minutes in this traffic are less likely to want to wait another five minutes in a drive-thru line.”

Froode guesses about 80% of her customers are regulars and most have stuck with Ravensara during the construction. She credits her veteran baristas for the customers’ loyalty. Froode has a very thorough training program for her team, with a big part of that “learning the nuances of our repeat customers so we can make a really consistent, good cup of coffee.”

Froode’s daughter, Ariel, is a part-time barista, making Ravensara a three-generation family business.

The culvert work is winding down and traffic is picking back up, but now Ravensara has another challenge to contend with: Starbucks bought out all the Pumpkin Spice syrups from her supplier. She hopes to get some for the October rush because now through December are busy times in the coffee business.

“It’s darker, wetter and colder,” Froode said. “The fall season fits so well with the warmth of coffee.”

And next up: The Washington State Department of Transportation is conducting a study on installing a roundabout at the intersection of 118th and SR-302, which would be the fourth major road project on Froode’s doorstep in recent years.