In our weekly column “CoffeeShoprs Answer…”, owners and managers of some of the finest coffee shops, cafes, roasters and other coffee businesses from across the country share real life experiences and business insights on different topics.
Today’s topic is “What was the very first thing you did after you decided to start your coffee business?”
1. Dream & Picture What You’d Like To Build
Chris from Ellipsis Coffeehouse (Chicago, IL)
My dream of owning a coffeehouse began at a very early age in life. Growing up, coffee was an omnipresent part of my life. Throughout high school and college I worked at a variety of different shops and my love of coffee and aspirations of opening up my own shop continued to grow. Then, in my mid 20’s this dream presented itself as an attainable goal. At this stage, the first step was to figure out what type of shop I wanted to have. I began to look at what coffee really meant to me and what type of image and culture I wanted to portray.
Thinking back to childhood, coffee was something that brought people together and created a sense of community. As I grew, coffee became passion – a collision of science and art with so many nuances, but generally underappreciated and misunderstood by most people. Looking at the current industry, there are a lot of shops that uphold that sense of community but fall short on quality. On the other side, there are shops that uphold quality and know a great deal about coffee, but are unwilling to share that knowledge with anyone on the other side of the counter.
This gave me the image for the Ellipsis Coffeehouse. A place that is warm and inviting, holds quality to a high standard, and is willing to open up the world of coffee in an approachable way. Our goal is to share our love for all things coffee and embrace the traditional aspects of coffee that have been lost within today’s society.
2. Get Out There & Start
Kyle from Kope Coffee Company (Honolulu, HI)
I was working for a caterer that did a ton of “coffee drops,” where we would brew big 3 gallon urns of questionable-quality coffee and leave them at events, complete with sweeteners, cups, etc. I couldn’t help but think that it could be done better than we were doing it. When I discovered all the companies on the mainland (we’re in Honolulu) doing mobile espresso (I’m looking at you, Cafe Evoke in OKC), I decided that I wanted in.
The first thing I did was read… a lot. I read everything I could on coffee, business, marketing, etc. I took everything I learned and put it together in a business plan that was about 30 pages long. One year later, I had a well-developed business plan, but no business. My wife was pretty sick of me talking on and on about this great coffee business I was going to start, but never actually doing it. One day, she announced that she had booked our first event. It was in 3 weeks, and we had no equipment! That was the push I needed.
Looking back, I realize that I used the planning stage of our business as a procrastination tool to avoid actually doing the hard work required to launch a business. My advice to anyone else starting a coffee business (or any business, for that matter) is to get out there and DO. You can plan all you want, but plans without actions are empty.
3. Decide On Your Business’s Vision
Marcelo from Bourbon Street Cafe (Los Angeles, CA)
The very first thing I did after deciding I would open a coffee shop was to ask myself what is the vision of my business. The mission and purpose of any business is a very important spine that will help the business to keep its track and not stray away. I believe that a coffee shop should always keep its unique concept and vision, because once the coffee shop starts adding different products to try and satisfy everyone, and strays away from its original purpose, it is very easy to fall.
– What is it that I want to accomplish by opening this coffee shop?
– What is the most important thing?
– What will this shop focusing on?
These were the questions I had to ask myself.
It is true that so many different things are very important when it comes to opening a coffee business. I needed to find great quality coffee, decide if I’ll be roasting myself or serve coffee from other roasters. Location matters a lot, and talking to other coffee shop owners with more experience is also very helpful. But all of these came after. If I hadn’t decided on my vision and purpose of my coffee shop, I know I wouldn’t have been able to satisfy our customers the way we do now, and be proud of my place.
4. Work On Your Business Plan
Michael from Cafe Bella Coffee (Rio Rancho, NM)
Diving into a comprehensive business plan was the very first task at hand upon making the decision to start the Cafe Bella Coffee business.
Before working on all the excitement of defining the look, feel and ambiance, the foundation would need to be established. Our urban concept in a suburban location would be a switch play. The idea of offering a neighborhood cafe built on offerings that are usually found only in an urban setting would take much research. One focus was to very closely evaluate traditional neighborhood concepts and then do the same with urban espresso cafés.
Our strategy, if we cannot make it work on paper, we would not move forward. During the comprehensive business plan process we participated in the Small Business Association’s SCORE mentor program to have the plan evaluated by someone outside our circle of influence.
So, many jump feet first into this business with no prior food and beverage experience. This can be extremely problematic and costly. Especially with no actual business plan, detailed research and/or sales forecast. Things like labor, beverage cost, service model and marketing are huge.
5. Learn From Others
Sarkis from Daily Dose Cafe (Los Angeles, CA)
Whats the very first thing I did after I decided to open a coffee shop?
Well I started doing research online and then visited as many coffee shops/espresso bars etc to learn about taste profiles and culture.
Few months later, I contacted Intelligentsia, which at that point, were probably the best known 3rd wave coffee roasters out there. We made an appointment and met. They set us up with all of our equipment and gave us some training. Along the way we had to meet with several different architects, designers, consultants.
Opening a cafe was not as simple and easy as I thought it would have been. But, well worth the trouble.
6. Consider A Food Program
Brad from JoLa Cafe (Portland, OR)
Photo by Casey Hill
The first thing we did after opening our doors was develop a food program. We quickly discovered that our neighborhood does not have the foot traffic to support a coffee only business. We responded by becaming a small restaurant with high quality espresso and brewed coffee with the same seat yourself, counter service flow. You can do a lot with a sandwich bar, a couple induction burners and 110v counter top oven.
Adding a high quality food menu to a high quality coffee program has been the difference in the success of our business. That and a friendly smile of course.
Photo by Casey Hill