If you’ve driven by Atomic Coffee Bar on Brady Street in Davenport in recent weeks, maybe this thought has popped into your mind: “Why is this place always so busy?”
You wouldn’t be the only one.
It’s typical for the coffee spot, which has two drive thru windows, to attract two lines of cars — each stacked a dozen or so deep — circling around its 10-by-30 foot frame. Drivers awaiting their caffeine fix often back up on the shoulder of Brady Street just north of 47th Street.
Brothers Peter and Steven Schillaci, who own Atomic Coffee Bar, have come to count on the constant “crazy long lines.”
“It’s like this every single day,” Peter Schillaci, 33, said, standing inside his “smaller than a shoebox” coffee shop in the parking lot of the Walnut Center. “Every day, it’s getting busier. Now, we can’t even supply the demand. I’m losing customers because I’m so slammed.”
It’s so busy that Brian Schadt, deputy director of the Davenport Public Works Department, met last week with the Schillaci brothers to talk about traffic concerns.
“We observed the cars backing out on the shoulder on Brady Street and it’s a definite safety issue,” Schadt said. “Those cars queuing in the right-of-way are in danger.”
His suggestion? The owners should start directing their customers to line up in the parking lot area rather than on the shoulder. Schadt also is working with the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and Davenport Police Department to install a sign, probably with a “no standing or parking” message, on the side of that section of Brady Street.
Schadt said he’s never seen anything like it.
“We’re very happy they’re doing so well with business,” he said. “We never anticipated that much volume during all times of the day. You put together the high speed vehicles and the close proximity to a higher volume of traffic … it’s not ideal.”
Traffic may slow later this month, when Atomic Coffee Bar’s second location is expected to open inside the new ORA Orthopedics building, 6101 Northwest Blvd., Davenport. Plus, Peter Schillaci said another drive-thru only spot could open in Bettendorf over the summer.
“We’re not wondering if customers will keep coming,” Peter Schillaci said, “but if we can build these fast enough.”
A ‘viral’ drink
The Schillaci brothers say they have high school students to thank for the Atomic phenomenon.
Going to Atomic has become an after-school ritual for many at Davenport North High School. You can see the lines swell even more around 3:15 p.m. just after school lets out each weekday.
But it’s not coffee or espresso drinks that have hooked students. It’s the Atomic Energy, a Rockstar energy drink infused with various colored flavorings and blended into a slushie. The concoctions have become so popular that customers simply call them the “pink drink” or “blue drink.”
“Something happened just two months ago and the pink drink just went viral,” Peter Schillaci said. “Students took them to school and showed them around a little bit and it just spread from friend to friend.”
Hearing about the after-school rush to Atomic, Davenport North principal Jay Chelf said, “I can imagine that.”
“I know the kids really like it,” he said. “They talk about it a lot.”
Chelf said the “big trend,” spreads over to Bettendorf High School, where his daughter attends.
“Her friends over there really love it, too,” he said. “It’s not just our school.”
Steven Schillaci, who comes up the shop’s recipes, said he’s selling as many pink or blue drinks as coffee-based beverages.
“To have the Atomic cup … it makes a statement,” he said. “You’re the cool kid.”
The menu’s coffee and espresso drinks, such as a latte that’s made with six shots of espresso and Irish cream, also set Atomic apart. They source coffee from Intelligentsia, a Chicago-based roaster, prepare drinks with top-notch equipment and use an osmosis purification system that strips all of the minerals out of the water.
“We spare no expense with what’s going in the cup and the cup itself,” Peter Schillaci said. “With all of that, you’re going to have the best product in town. Being the eighth car in line here is better than being the third car at Starbucks.”
A taste of the West Coast
Even before the Schillaci brothers, originally from Portland, Oregon, opened Atomic Coffee Bar in January 2016, they had a good feeling about their brand.
Steven Schillaci, 25, originally planned to open a coffee shop in Oregon, but his older brother, who had moved to Davenport a few years prior, suggested tapping into a new market.
“When I first came to the Quad-Cities, there wasn’t a huge coffee presence,” Peter Schillaci said. “I told (Steven), ‘You can open in a market that’s saturated with coffee shops or you can bring it here and we can show the Midwest what coffee can be.'’’
Steven Schillaci took his advice. He moved to Davenport and brought his girlfriend, Malia Driscoll, along to work as a manager. Since Driscoll had never worked in a coffee shop before, Schillaci quizzed her on how to make mochas and lattes during their cross-country trek.
With his coffee expertise and his older brother’s marketing background, they felt the storm brewing.
“We knew that as soon as we opened, it was going to become chaos, because it’s so different,” Steven Schillaci said. “And it’s a madhouse.”
But inside Atomic Coffee Bar, even with a line of cars that rarely slows, it seems to settle on controlled chaos, served with a smile.
“This is what I’m used to; these are on every corner in Portland. This is Oregon all day, every day,” he said. “It’s nice to bring some of that to the Midwest.”