Port City Java Brews Up Growth Plans

By Ken Little, posted Dec 5, 2014
Port City Java owner W. Cecil Worsley III said the coffee chain's expansion plans include more college campus locations and growing its wholesale business. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
Just for the record, W. Cecil Worsley III’s favorite coffee drink is a four-pump sugar-free vanilla latte.

There’s do doubt where the Wilmington businessman goes to enjoy his favorite beverage. Worsley in 2011 acquired Wilmington-based Port City Java, a Wilmington-based coffee shop chain that continues to see changes.

Worsley said he is looking forward to the future of the company and ongoing efforts to expand its footprint.

“We will continue to grow our corporate-run cafes. We are really looking to grow and expand our franchise channel and expanding our college and university channel,” Worsley said.

Port City Java is also expanding its wholesale business through roasting “that can be blended to the customer’s specs and taste,” he said.

Wilmington businessman Worsley acquired all the assets of Port City Java’s holding company, in addition to its roasting and franchising entities, in 2011.

“Since I joined the company, the thing that has changed is that we have a clear direction with the capital to support it,” Worsley said.

Steve Schnitzler, previous Port City Java owner, continued on as CEO of the company.

“[Worsley] has got a very keen business sense and experience. He’s provided us with great connections,” Schnitzler said.

Worsley also brought architect John Rees into the business as a partner. Reese is responsible for the redesign of Port City retail outlets through the chain.

“We’ve eliminated community tables in a lot of shops. We’ve stopped doing fireplaces in a lot of our locations right now,” Schnitzler said, citing several examples of the new-look of Port City Java outlets.

Worsley has been in the petroleum/convenience store business throughout his professional life.

“I had the Scotchman Stores, and that was the retail part of the business. We sold the 140 Scotchman Stores in 2008, and I kept the wholesale part of the business, which is now Springer Eubank Co.,” Worsley said.

He still operates eight convenience stores, in addition to a wholesale fuel division serving commercial customers and marinas, in addition to a fuel transport company.

“The reason I bought Port City Java was the opportunity was in front of me, and I had a five-year non-compete [stipulation] on having convenience stores. So I was handcuffed, and I know retail and Port City Java was a perfect fit,” he said.

Worsley was previously in the coffee business through Scotchman Stores and sold CW-brand coffee.

Competing against the Starbucks of the world is a business reality but not an impediment for Port City Java, officials said. The familiar shops across the area are an integral thread in the Cape Fear community fabric, Worsley said.

“Port City Java is unique in a sense that it has a local feel and is a high-quality product. It doesn’t bother us at all to go head-to-head with Starbucks in our market area,” he said. “We will continue to build on quality and customer experience, which we feel is a step above anybody.

Port City Java’s involvement in the community is key to that strategy.

“We really focus on giving back to the community with supporting events and nonprofit charities,” Worsley said. 

The sheer volume of the business has grown in recent years.

Its current roasting output is about 230,000 pounds annually. That translates roughly into 8.93 million cups of coffee per year, “at the strength we brew it,” Schnitzler said.

The total also includes a number of private label wholesale customers the company roasts for that sell the coffee under their brand names.

Port City Java has 40 full-time and 96 part-time employees in its corporate structure, which includes corporate offices, the roasting/warehouse operation, baking, corporately owned cafés and franchising department.

Throughout the Port City franchise system, there are about 200 employees, both full- and part-time.

The privately held company does not release revenue information.

Worsley said the company’s focus and growth strategies have evolved since he came on board. He sees Port City Java “as a regional brand from the Mid-Atlantic to the Southeast.”

One of the strategies supporting the vision is the expansion onto college campuses in several states.

Last year, Port City Java opened its first coffee outlet at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. It has a long-standing agreement with N.C. State University and seven cafés on that campus.

“In the last couple years we have really expanded our reach. We are now at Elon, High Point, Clemson, UNCW and N.C. State,” Worsley said.

Schnitzler said the total number of Port City Java cafés has remained consistent in that past five years.

“The number is pretty much the same, though there has been a bit of turnover in that time. The recession was not that kind to a number of locations, and we repositioned a good bit of assets from closed locations into opening new ones,” he said. “So, mainly, when one café closed, a new one opened.”

Port City Java has outlets in Charlotte and Greenville, South Carolina, with the bulk of the corporate and franchised locations centered in the Wilmington region.

There are currently 30 domestic cafés and two international locations, Schnitzler said.

“We have two more signed up, but have not yet built in Jacksonville/ Onslow County,” he said. “We also have another unit coming at UNCW and are speaking to several other colleges at the moment.”

Worsley said it’s appropriate that the company’s base of operations is in Wilmington.

“Wilmington is a port city,” Worsley said, “so it fits [to have] our headquarters here in Wilmington.”
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