BY MARC BENJAMIN The Fresno Bee
It isn't the coffee that's too hot, but the nearly bare baristas of Bottom's Up, a Clovis drive-through coffee shop that has trouble brewing with neighbors who oppose the business.
Residents are walking the neighborhood near Peach and Shaw avenues, seeking signatures to tell the Clovis City Council they want the servers to cover more skin, or the business should be told to leave.
They're the kinds of concerns that have been raised in Bakersfield, where another branch of the business is slated to open but hasn't yet.
Candice Eslick, who lives a block from the shop in Clovis, said the attire choices of servers are not right for Clovis. She will deliver a petition to the City Council on April 21.
Eslick, 50, a working mother and grandmother, said she has 85 signatures and several blocks remaining to canvass. She hopes her petition convinces the council to put an item on a future agenda to discuss the coffee shop.
Clovis City Attorney David Wolfe said the city probably can't do anything about the business. He said police and code enforcement officers have visited the store.
A few residents have called the city, he said, after KMPH aired a story that obscured the display of too much skin from a bent-over barista.
Wolfe said the video revealed "too much. We don't usually address that in our city code except in adult businesses. All your private parts have to be fully covered or it's an adult business and you have to go somewhere else."
The lack of strategically placed fabric "would have to be a regular practice" before the city would declare a violation of city rules, Wolfe said.
Since Clovis officials visited, Wolfe said, the business has followed the rules.
Bottom's Up opened in January. It's part of a franchise that started in Modesto and expanded to Vernalis, Tracy, Clovis and soon Bakersfield, said Modesto-based co-owner Alexandra Ireland.
Bottom's Up Area Manager Amber McCulley said work is continuing on Bakersfield's own Bottom's Up franchise, which is across Allen Road from Bakersfield Christian High School.
"I personally have not been out there but we have people that are working on it," McCulley said, adding, "I could not tell you an exact date or time (it will open) but it will be soon."
The business concept started in Washington state, where Ireland worked four years as a bikini barista in Kitsap County. She refined the business plan and brought it to Modesto three years ago. It's grown from there and Ireland said she wants to add 10 more stores in the valley.
The employee who was in the television news video was counseled and eventually let go, said Ireland, who said she "was just as surprised to see that on television as everyone else."
She said the business has rules about proper attire.
"It does not allow them to wear anything that they could not wear to a public beach," Ireland said.
Of stores they've opened, Clovis is the only place where resistance has perked up, Ireland said.
The Clovis store has five employees, and many of her company's 30 workers are single mothers, she said.
But scantily clad servers, Ireland said, are not the only reason the store has customers -- about 40 percent of customers are women.
"Our girls go out of their way to make people smile," she said.
There are another two parts of the business plan that are necessary.
"It's the quality of the coffee and customer service," she said. "I think (customers) come here the first time for the bikini and they stay for the quality of our drinks because if a pretty girl in a bikini is rude and serves you horrible coffee, you wouldn't go back."
The business originally opened last year as a drive-through for energy shots, but gained little following. But with bikini baristas and virtually the same menu, and different drink names, business jumped dramatically, Ireland said.
Drink names like "Get Lai'ed, The Big O, Screamer" -- and some even more adult rated -- have also upset the neighbors. Ireland said she is considering toning down some of the drink monikers.
Wolfe, the city attorney, said product names are a First Amendment issue and the city would not intervene. The names of the drinks, he added, "can be offensive. You just don't go there if it offends you."
Otherwise, servers can pour coffee as hot as they want -- or in as little as they want within reasonable attire limits -- at their own peril.
Eslick said bikini baristas would have never been allowed in more affluent Clovis areas.
The energy shots and coffee shop was fine, Eslick said, but when the concept changed it was obvious because an early sales tactic struck a nerve.
"One of the girls was standing on the corner and was wearing hardly anything," she said. "It was not a bikini; you could pretty much wear nothing and be really close."
She said there have been other young women who have not been properly dressed.
"It's not anything against the girls," Eslick said. "I am sure they are smart, intelligent girls, but I'm sorry they think that's what they have to do to have a job."