Before there was Dutch Bros in Seaside, before there was Human Bean — there was Java Reef.
Some people call it the “Flintstones’ house” for its distinctive architecture. But since 1995, this unusual drive-thru at the Necanicum Estuary on the border of Seaside and Gearhart has been serving coffee drinks to the North Coast faithful.
When Shauna Chilinski went before the Seaside Planning Commission for approvals for an espresso drive-thru in 1995, son Josh Chilinski said, “They’re like, ‘What’s espresso?’ Espresso wasn’t even on the map. When she decided to go to the city, they had no idea what they were talking about.”
Java Reef started in the building behind its current location, the brainchild of Josh’s father, artist and woodworker Gary Shrode.
The former building went through several changes — fish-and-chips place, cigarette shop, art museum, information center — before transitioning into a vacation rental. The Chilinskis still use the building to prepare baked goods and roast coffee beans.
Shauna Chilinski and Shrode ran the business for many years, selling it twice to outside purchasers and buying it back both times.
Shrode designed and built the new drive-thru in 2011.
The roof is “very much real and alive, filled with flowers, grass and plants that all bloom in due season,” Josh Chilinski said. “He wanted to have something that was unique, that was not cookie-cutter and to incorporate as much wood and naturalistic features as he could.”
When Shauna’s mother Joan Chilinski became ill, the business took a back seat to caregiving, and hours at the Java Reef became irregular.
After her mom’s death, Shauna Chilinski and Shrode were ready for a lifestyle change. That led to the idea of selling Java Reef.
That’s where Josh and wife Jennifer Chilinski entered the picture.
Josh left Seaside following graduation from Seaside High School in 2004. He met Jennifer at Oregon State University, where she was studying to become a clinical dietitian. He entered sales and she pursued a career at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Temecula, California.
When they heard Java Reef was up for sale, the couple decided to make a fresh start. They moved to Seaside from California earlier this year, and received training from Shauna before taking over the daily operations themselves.
Times have changed since 1995, when coffee drive-thrus were rare on the North Coast.
Today, the Chilinskis differentiate themselves from other drive-thrus with the “strength and quality” of their coffee and drinks, Jennifer said. “They’ll pull up and say we’re from Washington and say, ‘We want five shots per drink.’ Our shots pull strong, they pull heavy and you don’t need five shots.”
It begins with the espresso machine — pressure, not electric, Josh added, and brewed using Allann Brothers beans bought wholesale and roasted on-site.
“When someone pulls up and asks for five shots, I always ask, ‘Have you had our coffee before?’” Josh said. “If they say ‘no,’ I say I’m happy to sell to you, but try the regular first. They’re pulled tall, but they’re very strong.” For those who “really enjoy a kick, try the white espresso,” Josh suggested. “It’s got about three times as much caffeine as darker beans. Same bean, but this is roasted way longer
Jennifer touted the 15 signature drinks, from the Shark Attack mocha with white chocolate and strawberry syrup to the green kelp Reef Tea, served extra hot. The Mayan mocha is composed of milk chocolate, almond, vanilla and habanera habanero sauce topped with steamed milk over dark espresso. The chai — made from homemade powdered milk — comes from a family recipe.
A chocolate banana protein smoothie features Greek yogurt, roasted quinoa, bananas and milk. Homemade breads, bagels with cream cheese and Booty bars are all on the menu. “Everybody’s been gobbling up our baked goods,” Josh said.
In months to come, the Chilinskis hope to be open seven days a week and hire new employees. They’re considering expanding the drive-thru’s square footage and opening both windows. They plan to take full ownership of the property by the end of the year and will be considering another location in the future. “Within the next three to five years I’d like to have another shop,” Josh said.
For now, the couple is finding its footing at the border of Gearhart and Seaside.
“It’s been here so long … people have kind of forgotten it’s here,” Josh said. “Our message would be: ‘We’re here. We never really left.’”