Ten years ago, lingerie coffee stands were considered a pretty big deal in Yakima.
Former Mayor Dave Edler and the City Council spent significant time on the issue, saying in 2009 that “bikini bars” should be regulated by the city’s Adult Business Ordinance.
Code enforcement officials eventually targeted a stand on Yakima Avenue called Dream Girls, and former owner Cheryl Clark was charged with indecent exposure (a misdemeanor) when one of her employees reportedly crossed the line.
“I honestly didn’t think we had broken the law, so I decided to fight back,” she said. “They just wanted to use me as an example.”
Clark eventually sold the business — which now sits along East Nob Hill Boulevard — and she harbors no bad feelings toward city officials. But she can’t help but wonder why a business like Dream Girls caused such a commotion back then and nary registers a whimper nowadays.
“I absolutely felt like we were targeted,” said Clark, who now owns only The Mocha Tree, a traditional espresso stand on West Nob Hill Boulevard.
“At that time, they were trying to create a new look for downtown, and they didn’t feel like having Dream Girls on Yakima Ave. fit in with that agenda,” she added. “You had other places in town doing ‘five-dollar hollers,’ but we didn’t do any of that. We were targeted because of where we were.”
The “five-dollar holler” involves nudity and is considered indecent exposure by the cities of Yakima and Union Gap. Other terms like “sexpresso” and “bikini barista” became very common back when Clark owned her lingerie coffee stand.
But these days, you may have to explain what you mean.
“Now, it seems totally fine and nobody even thinks about it,” Clark said. “Not much has changed, but the perception was different back then because they were still pretty new.”
Other cities in Washington have had to confront issues with indecent exposure — even alleged prostitution — at similar coffee stands. But aside from Clark’s case in 2010, local code enforcement officials say they have had no lingering problems with the three existing lingerie coffee stands.
Deja Brew is at 1323 S. Eighth St., Moulin Brew is at 2412 S. First St., and Peek-A-Brew is at 2423 Rudkin Road in Union Gap. A fourth stand has been rumored for North 16th Avenue, but details have not yet been confirmed.
“These businesses have to follow certain guidelines, and if there are criminal allegations, we will look into them,” said Joe Caruso, the code enforcement manager and fire marshal for the city of Yakima. “It’s all complaint-driven, and we’ve only had a few people complain.”
Caruso’s department investigated an indecent exposure complaint a couple of years ago regarding a barista who was wearing a thong. Code enforcement informed the business owner and the employee of the potential infraction and the issue was corrected.
“It was a one-time thing, more of a blip than a pattern,” Caruso said. “It’s not like we’re driving by and keeping tabs on these places. If it was happening over and over, we may have to do an emphasis patrol. But aside from the one incident a couple years ago, things have been pretty quiet.”
The city of Union Gap reports a similar arrangement with Peek-A-Brew, which sits off Interstate 82 and Valley Mall Boulevard.
“As far as I know, we haven’t had any complaints,” Lt. Stace McKinley said. “The owners have been willing to work with us and make sure their staffs are following the code. Nudity is not allowed in Union Gap, and that has been made very clear.”
‘Just Another Business’
Now that the novelty has worn off, the three remaining lingerie espresso stands seem to blend in with the dozens of other drive-thru coffee kiosks around town.
Sure, the windows are covered in black and there are video cameras installed to keep an eye on things (not to mention signs that say, “no cameras!”). But unless you’re in the drive-thru lane, you may not be aware of what the barista is wearing.
“We operate just like any other coffee stand,” said one shop owner who preferred to remain anonymous. “We serve coffee, Red Bull, sandwiches — the only difference is what the baristas are wearing.”
The shop owner said she has established her own guidelines that go above and beyond the city regulations. She doesn’t allow dancing and requires her baristas to wear two layers on top and bottom.
“They need to have two tops, two pairs of panties and they can’t show off their butt crack,” she said. “We don’t want to have any wardrobe malfunctions, so this way, there’s no chance of a mistake.”
The shop owner says her employees are all nice, hard-working young women. Some are moms and some are students. She said she has grown tired of people trying to moralize about what she’s doing, as though her business is inferior because it is built around pretty women in skimpy costumes.
It’s just a coffee shop with eye candy, she insists.
“We’re a little more revealing than Hooters, but we see the same amount of women come through as we do men,” the shop owner said.
“We have had very few instances with creepy people, and I feel like that has been one of the biggest differences compared to when I got started. The focus isn’t on being naked; it’s on good service and good coffee. We’re just like any other business.”
Clark, the former Dream Girls owner, wishes that was the prevailing attitude 10 years ago when she was defending herself in court against the city of Yakima.
She said she didn’t sell the business because of her legal travails, but that incident went a long way toward helping her realize that she would rather focus on coffee, not drama.
“I felt like what happened to me was more about cleaning up downtown, not the lingerie stand itself,” Clark said. “If we were in another location, they probably would have left us alone, just like the ones still around today. The city wanted to send a message to the community and I think that’s why they pursued it. But that’s all in the past. I’ve moved on.”