SUDBURY — If she stands in the middle of her coffee shop, Debby Johnston can stick each of her arms out a window.
A familiar face in town, Johnston has been serving Sudbury residents from her tiny green booth in the Sudbury Crossing parking lot for five years. Locally owned and operated, Debby's Drive Thru Coffee sells coffee, tea and scratch-baked goods and breakfast sandwiches.
In the 1960s, the cramped space was a Fotomat booth, where customers drove up and dropped off film to be developed without leaving their cars. When the digital age made the business obsolete, the Boston Post Road booth was re-purposed as a coffee drive-thru, first as Coffee Hut and now as Debby's.
Johnston said she makes the most of every single inch. It somehow fits a sink with running water, an oven, a microwave, a freezer, several large coffee dispensers, and one or two assistants.
"We're just really good dancers," said Johnston, on how employees make it work. "You have to be agile, really smart. Keep an eye on what everyone else is doing, maybe do two orders at once. It just becomes a beautiful dance. It takes a special chemistry."
Coffee is bought locally from the Framingham roasters Hogan Brothers. Unlike Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, Debby's offers brewed flavored coffee, meaning the flavor is infused in the coffee beans when roasted. She said her favorite flavor is Jamaican Me Crazy with its vanilla, caramel and Kahlua. Employees Aja Matzker, 20, and Jasmyn Guzzetti, 22, enjoy creating new flavors like Hawaiian coconut, Snickerdoodle, and almond joy and peanut butter cup.
About 75 percent of her customers are regulars and the staff has orders memorized. In between, new customers or "friends waiting to happen," as Johnston called them, will stop by.
"Our customers are the best, the sweetest," said Johnston. "When grumpy people come, we kill them with kindness, so they just go back to Dunkin' Donuts."
The booth itself bears the marks of a dedicated customer base. Christmas cards sent from loyal "coffee best friends" are taped to the walls inside. A customer interested in gardening donated the cluster of flowers and plants that decorate the front of the booth. Another donated the American flag that flies outside. Employees could not fully open the oven door because it was blocked by a wooden counter attached to the outside door, until a customer who works as a carpenter shaved a piece of the wood off to free up space.
"The only downside to this business is sometimes we get attached to customers and all of a sudden, they'll disappear," said Johnston. "We won't know what happened to them. So, if someone moves away or something, it's great if they let us know."
Debby's Drive-Thru is open from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every weekday.
Zane Razzaq can be reached at 508-626-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @zanerazz.