Cafe Owners: If you could do it all over...

13 Bean

New member
Hi everyone;

You're not terribly surprised to hear I'm in the beginning stages of opening my cafe, are you? I'm guessing you may have heard that around here once or twice before... :wink:

Anyway, yes I am. And I'm very grateful to have coffeeforums as a resource. I have pages of material to go through before I'm confident you haven't already answered any of my questions a dozen times.

I do have one question for now, though. Cafe owners, or former owners, or future owners... Put yourself back in the place where I am now. If you had to do it all over again, research, design, finance, and open your cafe...

What would you do differently?

Thanks in advance, hopefully I can do the same favor for someone else some day. :grin:


New member
Feb 20, 2007
Clearwater, Fl
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OK- here goes.... I have personally opened 3 cafes, 2 kiosks and been personally involved in about 3 more. Additionally, I have probably talked to nearly a 100 more that have went or are going through the process ( a note of interest: I am not a consultant).

Here is what I have learned on my own and from others:

1) Whatever your contractor tells you about build-out time- double it. Seriously.

2) Make damn sure you are settled on your plans before giving the contractor the green light. Change orders will cost you much time and much more money.

3) Buy your equipment and store it or have the manufacturer store it at least 60 days before your build-out is complete. If you do not you will end up going cheap on your equipment, cause that last couple of weeks before you open you are writing a lot of checks.

4) Try and show up at the jobsite every day- If you don't your job gets moved to the back of the clipboard.

5) Ask someone with experience and knowledge to read your lease. Ask your landlord for more rent free build-out time. You won't get it if you don't ask.

6) Read your state/county/municipal permitting requirements yourself. Do not take anybody's word for this (especially your landlord's). These things change all the time so it matters little whether someone just opened a shop a few months in the same town. It is your cover it!

7) Depending upon your location, signage can be the single most important investment you will make. Be careful. Remember- always product first (COFFEE) and name second ( Joe Smith's Morning Cup). Also remember you are not Starbucks. Take as much signage as you can get.

Finally, take a vaction now and spend some quality time with your family and friends. You are going to be much older, although wiser, when this process is finished.

Good Luck! It is a great industry and one hell of a ride!


New member
Apr 1, 2007
San Diego, CA
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ahh.. if I only could...

I wish I had known about these forums before we opened our shop three years ago!

I applaud your efforts. Owning your own place can be the most rewarding experience of your life and the most frustrating as well! Here's what I would have done differently:

1) Given myself more behind the counter space.
2) Gotten two two-group espresso machines instead of one three group.
3) Designed the place for at lease twice as much storage as I did.
4) Kept our music concerts small and easy to manage. Once they got to be weekly with touring bands and we were charging for tickets, it became a huge loser. In other words, don't grow too quickly in any one area if that means spending money.
5) Make sure your location is EASILY accessible by your potential customers. Even though our place has 65,000 cars driving by each day, the accessibility was difficult for first timers and getting out could be tough during the busy morning rush. Big lesson learned. We now have a direct access driveway that makes things much easier, but we wasted a lot of time and money trying to survive while the city was taking their time issuing me the permit.

Here's what I did right:

1) Bought a lot of my equipment on Ebay and my local I had the best luck with Ebay. Lots of places remodeling, going out of business, excess equipment, etc. I saved thousands of dollars on my coolers, freezers, Blendtec blenders and replacement jars, drive-thru menu and communications system, tables, chairs, and of course couches, etc. Just make sure the seller has lots of positive feedback!
2) Signage as previously mentioned is a huge thing. Make sure your logo and signage look professional; it's the first impression you will make on all your potential customers.
3) Check with espresso machine and grinder manufacturers to see if they have any demo models for sale. They usually will come with a full warranty and you can save thousands there.
4) Join your local business and community boards. You will most likely meet other small business owners and make some extremely valuable contacts. In my case, this has been one of my biggest advantages in making contacts in the community and helping to positively impact our community.

That's my 2 cents from the cheap seats. Hope it helps.

Good luck!



New member
Aug 26, 2006
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Source the best equipment you can afford
Lease rather than buy (conserve your cash - you will need every penny)
Plan for volume increases - visualise your business where you want it to be and make sure your physical resources can cope
Don't try to cut corners on fit out - expensive to put right once you are trading - we changed the floor 3 times in our first shop before we got it right

Good luck!


New member
Jun 7, 2007
Costa Rica
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Hi, long time lurker, first time poster.

I am also at the beginning stages of the process, like the VERY beginning and this information is invaluable, thanks.

Sometimes I feel like I''m researching too much. There seems to be untold amounts of information out there and it can be overwhelming at times.

From earning a PhD in Genetics I''m no stranger to research and planning, but I''m still trying to learn how to seperate the wheat from the chaff and this forum has helped greatly.