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May 10 (Reuters) - Dunkin' Donuts is back in California after a decade-long absence, with a new cafe at a U.S. Marine base near San Diego, but the general public will have to wait.
The reception has been warm at Camp Pendleton, one of 26 military bases in the Dunkin' Brands Inc unit's network as it targets such outposts, which have relatively few dining options.
"I tried to go on opening day but the line was too long," Staff Sgt. Luis Agostini, a New Yorker who counts Dunkin' Donuts among his favorite coffee chains, told Reuters on Thursday.
He hasn't yet visited the shop since it opened last week, but said he was waiting on a colleague who had been dispatched to pick up coffee and doughnuts.
Access to the cafe is limited to individuals who are allowed on base - including active and retired military members and their families, civilian personnel and approved visitors.
Some 100,000 people are on base during peak hours, a Marine spokesman said.
Other companies already operating on the grounds of Camp Pendleton include Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, McDonald's Corp , Subway, Domino's Pizza Inc and Yum Brands Inc's Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains.
Starbucks Corp is not there - at least not yet. But its presence in military bases could grow more quickly with the recent appointment of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the Seattle-based company's board of directors.
Starbucks, the world's largest coffee chain, already has strong store and distribution networks in California and poses a big challenge to Dunkin' Donuts in the state.
Dunkin' Donuts customers are fiercely loyal and have been clamoring for the chain to return to California, which Dunkin' Donuts says is the No. 1 state for grocery sales of its bagged coffee.
Dunkin' Donuts in August 2002 closed its final Golden State outpost in Sacramento "because the time wasn't right for the brand and the infrastructure didn't exist to grow and expand in the state," Dunkin' spokeswoman Michelle King, told Reuters.
"It will be some time before we consider expanding into California beyond the military base," she said.
The company has said it will refocus on California when its infrastructure is in place.
Canton, Massachusetts-based Dunkin' Brands went public in July and since has been opening new markets for Dunkin' Donuts around the world.
It has almost 7,000 Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in the United States, mostly in the eastern half of the country, and it plans to more than double its presence over the next 20 years.
About 100 Dunkin' Donuts restaurants are in the U.S. West, which the chain sees as a growth market. This week the company said it had signed store development agreements for Western cities such as Denver, Houston, San Antonio and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Dunkin' Donuts also is making a push overseas - where it has about 3,000 stores.
It opened its first restaurant in Guatemala on Tuesday, in the capital of Guatemala City. It also debuted in India on Tuesday with two shops in New Delhi.