PJ’s Turns 40, Opens 100th Store, Re-Opens 1st, Makes Bruno A Better Businessman

“Life’s too short to drink crummy coffee.” 

It’s a mocha-inspired mantra that Roy Guste Bruno, a 31-year-old PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans franchisee, said keeps his multimillion-dollar coffee business percolating.

“PJ’s serves the only true local gourmet coffee in my opinion,” he said of the aromatic Arabica served at his five coffee shops. “You can clearly tell our beans are of great quality unlike the competition.”

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Today, the locally grown PJ’s global brand celebrates the grand re-opening of its original location at 7624 Maple St. after undergoing major renovations. From 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. event attendees will receive a free 12 oz. cup of hot or iced coffee, select food samples, enjoy a performance by the Sophie B. Wright Charter School marching band and be able to enter a raffle to win free coffee for one month. 

It’s been 40 years since PJ’s was founded in New Orleans by Phyllis Jordan, widely considered a pioneer in the coffee industry for promoting better beans, superior roasting techniques and a pure passion for the art of coffee-making. Today, current owners Ballard Brands’ Paul, Scott and Steve Ballard, as well as president Peter Boylan and leadership from the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, will attend the ribbon-cutting and grand re-opening of Jordan’s first java joint Uptown. Last Thursday, Sept. 6, the New Orleans native Ballard brothers savored the sweet smell of success in Pearland, Texas when their 100th location officially opened. PJ’s storefronts can be found in seven U.S. states and two international locations in Vietnam. 

According to Business Insider, coffee is a $100 billion global industry, and coffee shops are the fastest growing niche in the restaurant business in the nation with a seven percent annual growth rate. 

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For franchisee Bruno, the coffee trade wasn’t originally his cup of tea.

When attending Loyola University New Orleans, Bruno’s uncle attorney Joe Bruno, a principal at law firm Bruno & Bruno, introduced him to the Ballards, and Roy started out at PJ’s as a barista. But after graduation, he stepped away from the daily grind and tried his hand as a wine purveyor, a construction worker, a court runner and investigator for the Jefferson Parish DA’s office, and even drove a car as a chauffeur.

But in 2012, when Bruno, who already cultivated a flavor for the coffee market, got the opportunity to manage the PJ’s corporate store located steps from Jackson Square at 630 Chartres St., he decided to go back to slinging mud.

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“Three years later, I opened my own franchise on 501 Decatur St. a couple blocks away,” he said. “My brother and business partner Stephen Bruno helped manage the new store, and we were able to run both stores simultaneously. Three years after that corporate let me buy that Jackson Square store with my brother, and soon after I was able to acquire other corporate stores at 622 Canal St., and 509 Veterans Blvd. and 800 Metairie Rd. in Metairie.”

In his six years as a PJ’s multi-store owner, Bruno said he and his 40 employees have sold more than one million cups of coffee and attributes his steady growth to a balanced blend of customer service and the quality of PJ’s robust medium, dark, flavored and decaf roasts. 

“Working in the French Quarter, people from all over the world compliment our coffee daily,” he said. “That’s how I know we truly have a great product. Every day people tell us they wish they had a PJ’s back home, and they seem to return to us every day while on vacation.”

As PJ’s continues to expand around the globe, corporate reps say their cream and sugar are their batches of entrepreneurs and franchisees like Bruno who take advantage of a potential average unit volume (AUV) of more than $645,000 and a recent five-year brand growth of 47 percent.

Whether a franchisee decides to open a kiosk or a free-standing location with a drive-thru, PJ’s offers rich support for site evaluation and lease procurement, design and construction, training and education, product distribution, year-round operational consulting, ongoing P&L analysis and marketing and promotions.

Bruno said because he worked for corporate before becoming a franchisee he was able to filter through much of the hot water by himself, but PJ’s brass was always there when he needed them.

“My experience with PJ’s has made me a better businessman,” he said. “Working alongside corporate for the first three years provided me with the proper experience on how to handle most situations, and the rest I figured out along the way.”

Bruno said PJ’s serves a variety of hot, iced and frozen coffee beverages using only the top one percent of Arabica beans, as well as organic teas and fresh breakfast pastries that are baked in-house. PJ’s Original Cold Brew™ Ice Coffee is brewed daily using a special cold-drip process that protects the flavor and strength of the beans while producing a coffee that is two-thirds less acidic. Bags of whole bean coffee and single serve cups of PJ’s Coffee and PJ’s Iced Coffee Concentrate are available for sale in-store and online.

“PJ’s is special because of the love Felton Jones puts into roasting every batch of beans in the Bywater,” said Bruno.

Felton, PJ’s chief roastmaster and brand ambassador, oversees a small batch process using a fluid hot air roaster at the PJ’s roasting facility at 2700 N. Peters St. His yields are smaller custom roasts, not part of a continuous process and procedure that many larger scale roasters use. He recently launched a 40th anniversary summer trio of Confetti Cake coffees. The limited time flavors have notes of vanilla, butter and powdered sugar and include Confetti Cake Velvet Ice, Confetti Cake Protein Velvet Ice and Confetti Cake Cold Brew Iced Latte beverages.

PJ’s plans to pour an additional “direct trade” small batch, craft-roasted anniversary brew that will be introduced on Saturday, Sept. 29 for National Coffee Day.

Aside from serving up seasonal combinations of vanilla and light almond for Southern Wedding Cake Iced Lattes and Southern Wedding Cake Protein Velvet Ice beverages; a Vanilla Bow Tie Affogato made with Ghirardelli® White Frappe, vanilla ice milk and PJ’s rich espresso; and White Chocolate Lavender Lattes with creamy combinations of rich white chocolate and floral lavender garnished with whipped cream, Bruno’s entrepreneurial varietal character seems to be the caffeine driving his stores’ success.

“My favorite part about my job is the people, and what makes us better than the competition, most importantly, is our customer service,” he said. “All of my employees I work with love their jobs, which is very hard to find these days. I enjoy working with them behind the counter and love being involved with all five stores. The hardest part is that I can’t be at all five at one time. My ultimate goal with my franchises is to maintain the five I have now and make them the best they possibly can be. I have no plans on being a nonexistent owner. I enjoy it too much and taking on more stores will take away from my time being at the ones I already have.”

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