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  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Posts
    3

    I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    Hello~!

    I am new to the forums and new to coffee, generally. I worked at a grocery store in the bakery where we sold local coffee/espresso, and once I learned how to make all the drinks, I was hooked on the charm of the coffee business... I even looked up the American Barista & Coffee School in Portland, Oregon. (I am in Eugene.) My dream is to have a lively cafe with events and a unique variety of foods, but my husband suggested starting really small and running a mobile coffee cart and offer coffee catering.

    I began to do some research, and I am so loaded with information I just have no idea where to begin. All the information I have read is jumbled. I get the impression my first task is to go to coffee carts, kiosks, etc. and take notes on what equipment they have, what supplies they carry, etc., and with that information begin making calls to get an idea of how much all of it will be to get it all set up.

    I am discouraged because I really don't have any money. I just now found a job at a growing cafe chain that pays 8.40 an hour, (I start on Monday,) and other than that our only other source of income is my husband's disability check, but he himself has a demanding and struggling photography business. I would have to save to even buy a cart or machine. I have good credit and could probably open a credit account if needed.

    I guess all of that background info leads to these questions:

    1. Is it realistic in this economy for someone who really doesn't have anything more that $200 of extra cash on hand per month to start a mobile coffee/espresso business?
    2. If the answer to above question is YES, how do I approach coffee carts and ask them questions about their little cart business? Are most coffee business owners open to answering questions for newbies, or are they stiff about the potential competition if they give too much advice?
    3. If it is possible for me to get this going, are there professionals that can assist with business plans for people who are business stupid, are they expensive, and where can I find them?
    4. Is it, overall, expensive to start a mobile coffee business?

    I'm sorry if I am asking all the same questions as other newbies. I didn't really want to sort through pages of old posts... but even links to old posts would be helpful if I can get the information I need!

    With much appreciation,

    Mouse

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia/Bukit Sentul, West Java
    Posts
    1,065

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    Firstly, welcome to Coffeeforums.com Its always great to see new members, especially from coffee rich Oregon

    To answer some of your questions I will try and roll everything into one...

    It would be best to spend a little more time in the business before taking the big step of going out on your own. I would take the time to pick and chose a quality independent to work with to learn the business. i am not sure of just how many cafes are in Eugene, but OR State must be really over represented with quality operators from what I have witnessed on this board as well as other forums. The advantage of working with an indeopendent is you get not only to learn about the quality aspect of drink preperation, but also you get to see the real costs of doing business. An independent may not have deep corporate pockets- how they market themselves, develop food cost models, manage staff, develop training systems would all be very useful for you in the near future. Also I think learning the business will open your eyes to not only what is wonderful about specialty coffee retail, but also what is not so great. Indie operators have to wear it all without help from a regional or head office... that is why I would for sure look to work with one for a year (or so)

    Opening any business with a very small war chest of capital is a huge risk. I for sure would look at trying to get a partner to go into the business with you. A partner would provide the $, so you for sure need to be able to sell that partner the experience you will bring onboard. Take it as said that the current economic situation at present is one of huge opportunity AND huge risk. If you have money, now is the time to look at buying a solid business. There are quite a few coming onto the market not because they are failing, but the owners are selling as distressed assets to pay the bank back. However, if you need to borrow to buy then now is not the best time to be jumping in... go back to doing the year+ as suggested above.

    Carts vs Cafes. I would again do time and then decide which way to go forward. Cart type packages with support from vendors are available (in NZ from about US$20k) These come with a guarantee on cups sold per day. however there is a very different feel to a cart business vs a cafe business. I think the obvious is the ambience of a cafe vs a cart, but there are literally hundreds of other factors that make them different animals. I am no expert on these though, will leave comments to those in trhe cart biz.

    Finally good luck. Passion for coffee is a solid ingredient in the Specialty Coffee industry. However I think experience will go a long way towards helping jell this passion together into a formula that helps to guarantee some degree of success.
    Merdeka Coffee (Indonesian Coffee Roasters and relationship coffee specialists) - Antipodean (Coffee - Cafe - Culture)

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    St Augustine Fl
    Posts
    157

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    Mouse

    You have to be very realistic about the money it takes to start this adventure, I am not here to disscourage you by any means and please keep this in mind. I for one bought an existing coffee kiosk that I had to put in line, or rather inside a store because the mall that the kiosk was originally in,wanted a brand name coffee shop, i.e. Starbucks. They are hating it because as everyone knows starboys are not building any new stores. It killed us both. But on the brite side, the mall plaza I am currently in is real nice with a killer traffic flow etc. I bought everything for 29k. The rent was another 5.2k deposit. The lighted sign, 4k. The initial stock 2k. I am not saying a cart would not be cheaper, this is just what I personally put up. Rent plus utilities? 3.5k month. plus insurance,equipment failures,advertising, lawyers, accountants, etc etc etc etc

    I was fortunate again in that the store I have had in place, tile, cieling reccessed light, handicapped acsess bathroom, mop sink, grease trap, 3 comp sink, emergency lights,etc. It was real easy comparatively speaking, again a cart or kiosk will be less.


    You have the right idea working as a barista for education, get real close with the owner, watch and learn what not to do.

    Business plans are a dime a dozen, it will be you that has the plan to draw.


    Do not give up on your dream, I work 100plus hours a week, but I love it. This is my shop and I have the absolute best customers on the planet and this is were all the mall employees hang out on break and all my friends come to see me.



    I have great coffee and everybody knows it. My drinks are expensive.


    Go get em girl, make great coffee and let us now how you are doing. This is not a get rich quick shceme which I am figuring out very very quickly.
    "the great coffee caper...."

  4. #4
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Posts
    3

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    Thank you to both of you for the thorough and informative replies. I definitely want everyone here to be realistic with me and tell me what I am getting into from a raw perspective. I am very serious about pursuing this, I just need to get a good idea about when it is likely to happen, how much I have to save to get it off the ground, and what I have to know to not crash and burn in the first year.

    My husband suggested to have a little cart and primarily offer coffee catering as well as renting a space outside of stores and such and serve from there, because he thought it would be very cute and efficient, "like my little mouse," he says. I was considering my very first move to be save up for professional training at the American Barista & Coffee School in Portland, OR, so that I would have hands-on experience and even play with latte art at the end of their 6 day class, the first two days (these are all days classes I hear) being about the business end of things. I figured that would be a quick & dirty but good way to get experience under my belt, because I would have the ability to contact someone from there if I had future questions and in the meantime, if getting the cart set up is taking a long time, I could at least be really qualified for a high-end barista job.

    The real reason I thought to spend the almost-$3k on a 6 day business & barista course is because I just *finally* found a job, and every single coffee place had already finished hiring. One place practically chased me away with a stick because I wouldn't settle for "I'll give this [resume] to so-and-so and make sure they go over it," or, "I'll review your application and get back to you if interested, please check back later." I took them seriously and checked back like, four times. They practically had to say, "We're not hiring go away." It's so impossible to find a job that I'd rather save money from an irrelevant job and pay for the experience rather than going through the hassle of applying EVERYWHERE and be all pooped out by the time I finally get a coffee job.

    Another quick question..... my husband wants to design and build my cart for me. He's extremely intelligent and has the knowledge to build one. Would it be cheaper to custom-build my own cart? What things should we take into consideration for the weather, considering we live in the valley in a place where it rains half the year?

    My mother threw out the suggestion of renting equipment rather than buying. What is the forum's view on this?

    Thank you for all of your responses!

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    St Augustine Fl
    Posts
    157

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    Absolutley

    Look for plans on line and I'm sure hubby can come up with something. Keep in mind your water and power requirments, are you planning on doing espresso also? Health dept regs are also a factor to consider. The reason I say this is because I have been there, and all I want to do is make great coffee and count the $$$$. LOL
    "the great coffee caper...."

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Posts
    576

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    1. Is it realistic in this economy for someone who really doesn't have anything more that $200 of extra cash on hand per month to start a mobile coffee/espresso business?
    Absolutely not, business ownership requires investment capital. Starting with no information, tools, facilities or skills, you are not in a position to launch a new business without a reasonable amount of investment capital on-hand to fund your operation. Whereas money alone does not ensure the eventual success of a business, the lack thereof causes its failure in nearly every circumstance.

    Do you know how to make a small fortune in the coffee business? Start with a large fortune.

    Take Alun's advice: I do know the city of Eugene and suggest that there are a number of coffee shops, roasters and other businesses in town (and in Portland) where you can productively channel your interest in the coffee industry by finding a paying job.

    Andrew

  7. #7
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Posts
    3

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    @ Andrew:

    I do intend to educate myself in the skills needed before pursuing this endeavor, thank you. I may be uncertain about where to begin, but I am not dumb. But I do see your point and I didn't really expect otherwise. What I personally am uncertain about is *how much* I'd have to invest, to have a little cart.

    And, easier said than done to find paying work at coffee shops here. I've gone to all the ones I could find. Like I mentioned in my second post, all coffee places here have either just finished hiring by the time I find their job posts or they're not hiring at all. They're dominated by university students, unfortunately. I'm still going to keep looking though. I found a full-time job already that I am starting next week at a growing cafe chain, but alas, they do not serve espresso... just drip coffee. (Waah!)

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia/Bukit Sentul, West Java
    Posts
    1,065

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    I would say yes, attending a training school such as ABC would be a great idea. They are obviously very well known and respected in the North West. I would say no to your husband designing your cart for you. Cart design and food and beverage service systems in themselves are a field where proffessional understanding of where and why mkes a huge difference to how your business will opperate and (indeed) whether it will be a success of not. I think I can relay this from exeperience. The first cafe I designed I thought I would save some $$ and work the kitchen myself. I had a lot of experience in F&B however I still made some huge mistakes. These days I use pro designers but work closely with them.
    Merdeka Coffee (Indonesian Coffee Roasters and relationship coffee specialists) - Antipodean (Coffee - Cafe - Culture)

  9. #9
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Posts
    576

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    Of course I never meant to imply that you were dumb, so please accept my apologize if you read that into my response. The reason for my recommendation to forgo starting a new business was that you indicated you have no more than $200 per month in extra cash to fund the business, which I took to mean that you probably do not have a minimum bankroll of $30,000 to $50,000 or more on-hand reserved for a new mobile unit or permanent cart business. Some of the self-contained vehicles are substantially more by themselves, before considering the costs of education, R&D, branding, marketing and promotions, inventory (coffee, dairy, flavorings, paper goods), fuel / utilities, insurance, etc. It all ads up very quickly.

  10. #10
    Senior Member
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    Jul 2004
    Location
    Hartford and New Haven, CT
    Posts
    991

    Re: I just don't know where to start.... advice?

    I agree with Andrew, I have seen more dreams turned into nightmares. You need a lot more money than what you have now. Even if you have the money, you are still at risk from multiple missteps. Here is a shop with deep pocket and decent product, he lasted 2 years. Your best bet now is work for local shops and see what they do, and visit successful shops and learn why they are successful. If and when you are ready, i.e. lots of money to lose, lots of knowledge about coffee, tea, pastry and customer service, remember the 3 golden rules of retail, location, location, location.

    http://www.cafetango.net/
    You want cream and sugar?
    NO COFFEE FOR YOU! NEXT!

 

 
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