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Lawmakers give OK to new Capitol coffee shop

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A panel of Arizona lawmakers gave the go-ahead today to open a coffee shop in the Capitol, ending six months of negotiations involving four government agencies.

Several lawmakers on the Legislative Council, which provides administrative services to both chambers of the Legislature, were uneasy with the process for choosing a vendor because it operates under different rules than the typical government bidding system.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, was troubled that the state won’t directly benefit from providing the vendor free rent, a sentiment shared by others on the council.

“I think something is a little bit off,” said Smith, who voted against the contract.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, was in favor of the shop, but he would prefer a procurement process of some sort instead of the vendor being chosen before contracts are completed, as was the case here.

The shop will be located in the Old Capitol in a room known as the ice cream parlor. The room, roughly the size of traditional Starbucks, is under the control of the Legislative Council, which rents it to the Secretary of State, who uses it mostly for storage.

The difference in the rules for opening the coffee shop stem from the Business Enterprise Program, which offers opportunities for legally blind people to open businesses.

Food vending programs in government buildings are allocated through the Department of Economic Services, which runs the Business Enterprise Program.

Mike Braun, executive director of the Legislative Council, said statute requires vending opportunities through the program to be rent free.

DES granted the concession to Darrin Warrilow, the same vendor who has the concession for the cafeteria in the basement of the Executive Tower.

Warrilow subcontracts with Kahala Brands, which operates a Samurai Sam’s, a Blimpie’s sandwich shop, a Surf City Squeeze and a Cold Stone Creamery, the ice cream chain that Gov. Doug Ducey sold to the company in 2007.

Warrilow will again subcontract to Kahala for the coffee shop.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan, who initiated the idea of a coffee shop in the Old Capitol, said she would have preferred a Starbucks, but the coffee chain wasn’t interested and neither was the vendor.

Reagan said she sees the shop generating traffic for the Capitol Museum and gift shop.

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