New member
Nov 28, 2016
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I've been reading the forums on and off for years. I may as well say hello and introduce myself.

I'm in the remodeling / inspections / red tape phase of opening a coffee shop in a neighborhood location in Silicon Valley. It's a wee little thing, under 600 square feet, and I'm told max occupancy is 18 counting staff (read: me) behind the counter. So far I've pulled out tattered wall paper, removed sad fake flowers and a white plastic trellis mounted to a wall outside, pulled up fake grass that was glued to the sidewalk (!), discovered the reach-in cooler was not cooling to code just had a thermometer "coincidentally" read as if it were, found the flooring hiding under the reach-in cooler was destroyed and now need to get that fixed, primed, painted, sawed, built -- it's been an adventure! And there's still much, much more to go. If all goes well from here forward, I'll throw my grand opening in January, which is quite a bit later than I'd first expected.

There are a few things going really right. My roaster is part of the third wave hipster San Francisco Mission crowd. They're awesome about getting me up-to-speed, and are just the best business partner I can imagine. The other is that I've lucked into great tradesmen so far: plumber, electrician, plus fingers crossed on a floor guy tomorrow. It is so hard to find folks who do small commercial jobs without charging 3x what they're worth and being fundamentally flaky too.

Not everything has gone well, but I'll save the best stories until I'm sure there are no legal worries for posting them. Yeesh.

Meanwhile, my landlord is working to raze the cafe and redevelop into more lucrative condos. I can't say I blame him. But even if the city agrees, it's at least 18 months of environmental studies and other hoops before he can think about deploying the first bulldozer. I look at this as meaning I should only spend money on things that (a) I can take with me to a future location, (b) I can pay off in 18 months. What I don't want is to owe money on a crater. All of this is just as well, since it focuses my budget discipline much better than I would manage otherwise. It's like a have a long-term pop up. ...possibly very long term, since the landlord has been working on this with no success for a decade so far. Who knows, I could be here for a long while. But I also know this could be fundamentally an ephemeral cafe. I'm focused on what I can learn for next time whilst hoping to make the current adventure as much of a community hub as possible, and of course to make some money while I'm at it.

For anyone else considering starting a cafe, my biggest surprise is how diverse the set of challenges turns out to be at the start. It's not bad, but it rewards life experience in a way I had not expected. There's a lot of general problem solving. Here's a great example. The day before my first inspection I went from soap dispenser to soap dispenser, making sure I had filled the hand soap in the lav and at the hand wash sink. When I opened a dispenser by the three bowl sink, I learned to my horror that it took a special antibacterial soap in a plastic bag. Amazon Prime could get it to me *after* the inspection, and I kicked myself for not doing the soap a few days early when I would have had time to fix things. What to do, when no soap would mean failing? Well the next morning bright and early, I went to the Restaurant Depot a few towns away. They did not have this particular soap either, just something similar for a competing product. With an hour before inspection, I started to panic. The employees didn't know of any other shop that sold the soap. And here's where the problem solving kicks in -- wait, I didn't need soap, I needed to pass inspection. I crashed the manager's office to ask if the competing product would do, since I could just pull out what I had and get a whole new set up (expensive, but less money than a failed inspection.) And he asked a great question: "Why do you have soap over a three bowl sink? That's not for hand washing." Right! No soap in a dispenser automatically fails me, but what I *really* needed was to just take the darn dispenser out entirely. Remember to solve the right problem. Back at the cafe, I studied the dispenser to figure out the thing I wonder a lot lately: finesse or force? I used a putty knife to pry the soap dispenser away from the wall, and could hear adhesive give -- and then found out there were hidden screws, too. Oh dear. I put a small but unmistakable hole in the wall above the three bowl sink. By chance, I had some spackle in the tool closet. I'm sure it was still wet when the inspector looked right past it. And I still didn't pass, thanks to the aforementioned reach-in cooler surprises, but at least I got a bit closer. My main point: figure out what problem you are actually trying to solve rather than what you think of as your immediate need.

Between spackle and duct tape, I am nearly invincible! Now if only I had coffee, grinders, and an espresso maker. And appropriate power outlets. And plumbing. And... It's definitely all a series of adventures. If you grew up on Zork, cafe ownership just might be right for you.


Super Moderator
Staff member
Feb 28, 2008
Near Philadelphia, PA
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Hello HelloWorld,

Welcome to the Coffee Forums website. We're glad you decided to join us. Thanks for writing such a detailed iintroduction. It's always nice to get to know a little about our new members.

Feel free to visit other Forum threads and post questions and participate in the discussions when you're ready.

Best wishes on your huge undertaking to open a coffee shop.



Super Moderator
Staff member
Aug 14, 2003
Boca Raton
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Welcome and thanks for the introduction...I apologize in advance for chuckling. We have all been there. I wish you luck but you do not seem to need it. I am sure you will be fine! Welcome to the forums!

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