SEATTLE Actor Patrick Dempsey says he won a bankruptcy auction to buy Tully's Coffee, a small coffee chain based in Seattle.
Among those Dempsey says he beat out is Tully's much bigger Seattle neighbor, Starbucks (SBUX), which wanted to convert the cafes to its own brand.
Dempsey's company Global Baristas plans to keep the Tully's name. The actor declared victory on the social media site Twitter with the message: "We met the green monster, looked her in the eye, and...SHE BLINKED! We got it! Thank you Seattle!"
But Starbucks says not so fast. The chain, which has 18,000 cafes worldwide, said in a statement that a final determination on the winning bid won't be made until a court hearing on Jan. 11. Starbucks said it's in a "back-up" position to buy 25 of the 47 Tully's cafes, with another undisclosed bidder making an offer for the remainder.
The combined bids of Starbucks and the undisclosed bidder come to $10.6 million, above the $9.2 million Dempsey is offering to pay through his company.
Tully's Coffee, which has more than 500 employees and locations in Washington and California, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, citing lease obligations and underperforming stores. TC Global, its parent company, said in a release Friday that it was "encouraged and excited" about Dempsey's commitment to the chain.
Tully's President and CEO Scott Pearson called the deal a "great match" and that the goal is to make sure creditors get paid and to keep as many people employed as possible.
Dempsey said he planned to be very involved in the running of the company, adding that the immediate challenges were to address bookkeeping issues, staff morale and sprucing up the coffee shops. Once the business is stabilized, Dempsey said the long-term goal would be to take the chain national.
"We can pull this off. We just have to take steps that are slow and smart," said Dempsey.
"I'm going to get behind the counter. I'm going to serve coffee...I'm going to give the company a boost of energy," he said.
Though Dempsey lives in Los Angeles, he says he plans to spend more time in Seattle. Dempsey said he believed there is room in the city for both Tully's and the much larger Starbucks. He noted there might be people who are rooting for the underdog.
"In a society where there are so many big corporations that swallow the little guy, we thought, let's not let this happen to this company," said Dempsey, a star in ABC's hit medical drama "Grey's Anatomy," which is set in Seattle.
Dempsey made an appearance Friday morning at a Tully's near Pike Place Market, shaking hands with workers and greeting customers before visiting other stores. Several dozen people, mostly women, came into the store.
Patrease Estelle, 45, works nearby, and came in with a small group from her office.
"I will take whatever I can get. A photo, a hug, a 'hey, how you doing,' a wink," said Estelle, who got a picture and handshake with the actor.