A few weeks ago we interviewed Heddy Kuhl from JavaVino for one of our most popular articles “What coffee shop and roastery owners wish they’d known before starting their coffee business”. Among other things, Heddy pointed to the importance of thinking hard about a business name and mulling it over with friends. Naming a business is important, since you don’t want to change your business identity halfway through.
How do people in the industry choose names for their businesses? What do they consider important?
We talked to successful coffee shops and roasters to find out.
* Image on the cover and above by Thou Mayest
1. Give People A Story To Believe In
Bo from Thou Mayest (Kansas City, MO)
We chose the name “Thou Mayest” after we read John Steinbeck’s book “East of Eden”. It means “the way is open”. We use this as our “battle cry” because we believe “Thou Mayest” is more than a name, but rather, a movement of people who want to make the spaces they inhabit more valuable by, as Cameron Sinclair beckons, “design like they give a damn”.
We extracted the meaning of “Thou Mayest” to create our mission statement:
We believe that coffee and conversations are best shared over great drinks. We love the community that coffee creates and our job is to instigate energy and cultivate creativity through thoughtful care of our craft.
There are a few things to consider when choosing a name:
1) There are NO RULES
The Internet has helped break all the rules. For instance, we used to roast out of a garage in Kansas and shipped globally because of the Internet.
A good example of no rules when it comes to names is “Google”. If someone said they were going to name their company “Google” 10 years ago, we would have given them a strange look. Now that word is a noun, verb, and everything in between.
2) Make sure there is a GOOD STORY behind the name
People love stories and to believe in something greater than themselves. Give them a story to believe in.
Make sure your marketing and branding behind everything you release to public reflects whatever story you choose, especially on social media.
3) People don’t buy WHAT you do, but WHY you do it
Name your company something that you believe in and it’s a no brainer for others to get behind, i.e., local, organic, community, relational, etc…
4) “Show a little leg”
Pull/entice people to want to know more about your company by what you decide to name it. Make it a talking point. Don’t push that message down people’s throats.
We intentionally chose the name “Thou Mayest” as an experiment of sorts to test out of the above points and see if they “held water”. Come to find out, it does!
[COFFEESHOPR: Check out the videos the guys at Thou Mayest made… The videos say it all.]
2. Go With Your Gut & Don’t Look Back
Shawna from Oui Presse (Portland, OR)
The name just came to me and got stuck in my head. And I’m pretty sure I violated whatever rules there are about choosing a business name, because no one can pronounce or spell the name of mine.
3. Reflect Your Passions In The Name
Adam from COFAX (Los Angeles, CA)
Cofax’s name came about from playing around with the phrase “coffee on Fairfax.” Once “coffee on Fairfax” was in the discussion, we started to talk about the Dodgers and how fun it would be if we had a Dodger theme for our shop. Of course, Koufax came up and we realized if we merged the phrase “coffee on Fairfax” we get Cofax, which coincided with our Dodger theme. From that, the name was born.
We are all Los Angeles natives, and Dodger fans, so for us it just sounded right and thats what we feel was most important when choosing a name.
Images by COFAX
4. Pick A Name That Shows What Your Shop Is About
Karen from Surfers Coffee Bar (Wahiawa, HI)
Surfers Coffee Bar is a non-profit coffee shop in Wahiawa, Hawaii, run completely by unpaid volunteers, and exists to bring people together by providing a great atmosphere, amazing music, and coffee of the highest quality.
We are linked with another non-profit humanitarian organization, Surfing the Nations, whose mission is to meet needs and change lives through the sport of surfing and selfless service. Nearly six years ago, Surfing the Nations moved to Wahiawa – a small town that was once known for drug/substance abuse, prostitution, and domestic violence. Because of its nature, no one chose to stop in Wahiawa, but would drive through it on their way to the North Shore, world-renown for its famous surf spots.
To bring transformation to this broken community, Surfing the Nations bought what was once a strip club, liquor store, porn shop, and bar, and transformed them into spaces to house family-oriented businesses, and launched their own non-profit cafe, Surfers Coffee Bar. We mark four years of business this July, and couldn’t be more thrilled at the progress of business! Wahiawa still need a lot of change, but we’re glad we can exist as a community space for locals and visitors alike.
We chose “Coffee Bar” because we occupied the space that used to be the old “Top Hat Bar”, and “Surfers” because of our connection to Surfing the Nations. One of the biggest discussions was whether we are Surfer’s Coffee Bar, or Surfers Coffee Bar. Removing the apostrophe was not simply an aesthetic choice, but it changed the meaning from “a surfer’s coffee bar” to “a coffee bar for surfers.”
Images by Surfers Coffee Bar
5. Look For A Model You Can Borrow From (It Needs To Truly Reflect Who You Are Though)
Cacia from The Coffee Gallery (Haleiwa, HI)
The name, “The Coffee Gallery”, was chosen as an homage to a shop of the same name in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood during the Beatnik era. The original Coffee Gallery was the quintessential coffee shop of its day; a space where poets, musicians, and artists could come, have a cup of joe, share their art and linger for hours.
Wanting to cultivate the same type of community here on the North Shore of Oahu, and also lending the space as a venue for local artists to display their work, The Coffee Gallery Hawaii, was a natural name choice for owner Rene Dominguez who grew up in the Bay Area.
A lot of time has passed since The Coffee Gallery Hawaii opened in 1987, and we have gone through many changes. With Starbucks coming on the scene and new artisan coffee shops popping up all the time, we’ve definitely had to evolve with the times. Through that evolution the shop may have lost some of its original connotations with the name but it has gained nearly 3 decades of new ones.
As for the most important thing when choosing a name, (if you don’t have a model that you can borrow from like we did), this may seem obvious, but my personal opinion is that your name needs to suit you. My advice is to be honest and true to who you are and what your shop is. I think of it like naming a pet, pick a name that you like and after a little while you probably won’t be able to imagine calling it anything else.
Images by The Coffee Gallery
6. Listen To People Around & Have Fun
Tommy from Hey! Cafe (New Orleans, LA)
When debating between a list of possible names, a friend came up with ‘Hey! Cafe’ the debate was over. Plus it was the perfect excuse to draw a mug with a mouth, which is the dominant visual element of our logo.