The former Roasters coffee shops in the Tri-Cities, Washington, area have changed hands twice in a little more than two years—going first to the Vancouver, Washington-based Black Rock Coffee Bar chain and then to Spokane-based Wake Up Inc., which does business as Wake Up Call Coffee.
Customers may have noticed only the changing signs and menus, but a complicated legal battle had been brewing behind the scenes. Hundreds of pages of court documents reveal the tumultuous backstory to Roasters’ final chapter and the ownership turnover that followed.
It started in 2020, when leaders of the Wake Up Call worked out a deal with Roasters founder Wes Heyden to buy the Tri-Cities-based chain. An agreement went out for signatures that December.
But Heyden didn’t sign, and by January he’d opted to sell to Black Rock instead.
By spring 2021, news of the sale to Black Rock had broken and the transition was underway.
So was a lawsuit, which led to an arbitration award that forced Heyden to follow through with the original multimillion-dollar deal with Wake Up Call and prompted the latest switch in ownership.
Attorneys for Wake Up Call and Black Rock decline to comment on the case, which has played out in Spokane and Benton counties. Heyden said he regrets his naivety, and he wishes Wake Up Call well as it takes the Roasters mantle.
Wake Up Call started in 2004 and now has more than two dozen coffee shops in Washington and Idaho. Some of the shops include representations of London-style red telephone booths in their building designs.
Wake Up Call began working with Heyden at some point in 2020 on a deal to buy Roasters.
By then, Roasters was a local success story as a chain that continued to win devotees as it expanded. But Heyden came under fire in 2020 over controversial social media posts regarding revelations of a prior sex offense when he was a teenager, and that June he announced that he’d no longer lead the company, though he remained an owner.
On Sept. 1, 2020, Heyden and Wake Up Call signed a pact that set the basic terms and conditions of a sale, according to the lawsuit later filed by Wake Up Call in Spokane County Superior Court.
That pact, called a “term sheet,” required both parties to work in good faith toward an agreement and said neither could reveal the ongoing negotiations to third parties.
On Dec. 18, 2020, final purchase agreements were reached to sell the Roasters shops and Resilient Coffee Roasters to Wake Up Call and Sumner, Washington-based Dillanos Coffee Roasters for about $8 million.
But, according to the lawsuit, Heyden delayed signing the agreement.
Less than three weeks later, on Jan. 6, 2021, he gave notice that he was exploring a deal with Black Rock, which started in Oregon in 2008 and has grown to more than 100 locations in several states. Heyden said the larger chain was a better fit and ended negotiations with Wake Up Call, the lawsuit said.
That violated the term sheet, Wake Up Call’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, which was filed on Jan. 20, 2021. “Mr. Heyden’s putative termination notice and his acknowledgement that he had been communicating with Black Rock were admissions against interest that he had violated the provisions of the term sheet,” the lawsuit said, pointing to the exclusivity, confidentiality, and good-faith language.
Wake Up Call’s attorneys asked that the term sheet be enforced and the purchase agreement signed.
The matter went to binding arbitration, which resulted in Heyden in October 2022 being ordered to sign the original deal with Wake Up Call, according to court documents.
Black Rock also was found to have “tortiously interfered,” court documents note.
In a statement provided through his attorney, Heyden said Black Rock’s CEO visited him in the Tri-Cities. The statement pointed to a court filing from earlier this year that described Heyden and his wife, Shannon, as blindly trusting the word of the CEO to “take care of them out of brotherly love.”
Mr. Heyden regrets that he was so naive and wishes Wake Up well now that it has obtained control of the former Roasters stores.
Wake Up Call now has 14 locations in the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, Washington, in addition to 12 stores in the Spokane area, a mobile operation, and a concessions cart at Gonzaga University, according to the company’s website.
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