New Shop...lots of questions


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Oct 12, 2013
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Hi everyone!

My husband and I are working toward opening a coffee shop at the end of the summer next year. We have a location secured, but it needs a lot of work. It's a small, older house, but in good shape. We actually own the company that owns the property, so we have lots of flexibility.

The potential site is on a busy street, across from a strip mall with several restaurants and a call center employing several hundred people. There is a new apartment complex diagonally across the street and there seems to be lots of neighborhood traffic - although none of it is foot traffic. The location isn't *perfect*, I'll admit because of the lack of foot traffic, but I'm hoping we can take advantage of the employees across the street, along with the neighborhood traffic and the countless students in need of a study/meeting location.

We really want to create a place where the love of coffee brings community together. We want to have great coffee, fun pastries - possibly donuts by a, no kidding, donut artist in the area, and some sandwiches/salads. So, here's where we are: We are learning as much as we can about the coffee industry.

I currently work as a barista for a great, mom & pop shop that produces phenomenal coffee and I've learned so much there. Because they roast their own coffee, I'd love to start by using their coffee, but that will depend on them. I'm planning to further my coffee training by taking a few classes as well as take a trip to a coffee trade show next year. I have an idea about what equipment I'd like to use, but it's all top of the line stuff and I don't know if I'm overreaching by going all out initially - which brings me to the lease vs buy question for the equipment.

We are somewhat familiar with the lease situation as my husband has dealt with that in other industries. I'm assuming I can find out more about these companies at the trade shows. My hubby knows several companies to consult, but I'm happy to hear your suggestions as well.

We are doing lots of research toward completing a business plan with the hope it will help us secure funding to purchase the things we need to start and complete necessary renovations.We are trying to configure the coffee bar/retail area of the house without removing walls.

I'd love to know if you've visited an old house converted into a shop. How was the layout configured? Were the rooms of the house left intact or did the owner remove walls to create a larger space? The rooms are smaller than I'd like, but we CAN take walls out... It's just that I'd rather use that money elsewhere right now.

So, whaddaya think? I'm happy to hear your criticisms and your suggestions. Thanks so much!
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Its really hard to give you any type of advise since we really can't tell what you are asking without knowing what you have.
It would be easier if you list the questions.

Maybe some pictures of your current place would be helpful.
Size of the main room
Size of the whole house

YOu said you would like to use the money else where but what is your budget.
What are you planning on doing. Just coffee or other things.

Be more specific to give you more specific answers.
Hello RedHouse,

Welcome to the Coffee Forums website!

It sounds like you and your husband are planning quite an adventure. Where are you located?

I've never visited a coffee shop that started out as a converted house. I've visited gift shops, and other stores that were converted houses. Some of the walls for the original rooms were left intact to make separate areas for displaying merchandise (but the doors were removed). Some of the walls had larger doorways/walkways cut through the sheetrock and were refinished leaving most of the supporting beams. I have a feeling you're going to need to remove a few walls in order to have seating and counter space in your coffee shop.

The seating areas would be interesting, and probably more private and attractive, if you could leave the walls for the rooms, or maybe change them to half walls.

Is this a one-floor place or does it have two floors? Does it have a basement for storage?

We've had several discussions on this Forum regarding buying vs leasing equipment. Sometimes, when you lease equipment, you're obligated to use that company's coffee too. It's something that you need to explore so you can consider all of your options.


Great that you are gaining good barista skills working for a good shop. That will do wonders from the coffee side. Yes, if this shop does not see you as directly competitive, using a quality product that is locally roasted would be fantastic. If they do not want to or are not able to sell to you, use them as a measuring stick and make certain whatever coffee you choose to use is at the same quality or higher.

Never lease your equipment. If you are a LARGE operation, it's a "maybe". Otherwise, it's a train wreck. And your espresso machine and grinder are not something you want to skimp on. Sometimes you can save a few thousand on a show used machine. (SCAA, Barista competition, Coffeefest...) If you can't afford the proper equipment, you can't afford to start your business. Do your research. Find the best machine in terms of quality of build, consistency of repeatably producing great espresso, ease of maintenance, ease of use, etc. And then find the best price you can on that machine (or machines).

We had a local coffee shop that used a house. They removed two of the walls and ended up with a large front area and a smaller back area. I would be wary in terms of safety that you can keep an eye on all areas at all times. Maybe you open the entire thing up, maybe security cameras.Make sure you know all of the zoning requirements and that everything will be to commercial code (wiring, plumbing, etc.) which is often different than residential requirements. Have the local fire marshall tell you your exit requirements and smoke detector, extinguisher requirements as well before you start design... or paying anyone money.

The more you know up front, the better you can gauge your costs. After you determine every possible cost, add 15% to that.. because we all miss something, and then add about $10-$15K for beginning cash flow in case you need to pad your first 3-6 months. Taking all that into consideration, I would recommend that whatever that number is should be the minimum you have available.

It sounds like you are asking good questions early. That's a good sign. Don't try to nickel and dime things. Either you can afford to start a business or you can't. No one cares about your success more than you. Plan accordingly. You are on the right path.

Best of luck.
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I used to frequent a place called Midnight Oil when I was going to college (it's in Searcy, AR if anyone wants to visit :) ). This shop was phenomenal and was a converted house. They had knocked out all of the walls in the front of the house and built a little sitting bar where the center wall once ran. It was a wonderful place! They had a huge porch for sitting and sipping and listening to live music.

On another note, don't forget to build a good website. That is essential these days, especially if you are wanting to reach college students; a good phone app (down the road) might be handy too).
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Wow! Thanks so much, everyone!

We are in the process of determining a budget. I must confess, this will be much more expensive than I originally thought. I'm hoping the company that owns the property will be willing to pay for some of the site improvements to make it a restaurant space. (My husband owns the company that owns the we have an in there.) We are hoping to have the property company pay to hook it up to county water (it is currently on a well) and a few other site improvements.

If we are looking at top of the line equipment (La Marzocco is what I'd ideally like...) where can we save? Furnishings? I know some shops start (and then continue, sometimes) only doing pour-overs instead of using brew systems. I'm not sure I want to do this, though. I can't imagine the "on the way to work" crowd having time or patience to wait for a pour-over.

Mr. Shave, thanks for the note about Freemont Coffee Co. That shop is what made me think we could turn this house into a shop. It's adorable and my current inspiration. And for your advice about exclusivity. That's something I'll need to think about.

PoetGrant, I love the idea of outdoor seating. The house has an enclosed porch and we would love to add a deck on the front of the house. My customers at my current shop love to sit outside. And I couldn't agree more about the website. An essential!

On another note: Our new shop will compete with the shop where I currently work. I haven't told my employer about my plans as I'd like to have all the funding in place before sharing my plans with them. Of course, I'd like to preserve my relationship with my current shop, but I'd understand if that isn't possible. Like I said earlier, I'd love to get my coffee from them - it really is the best in the area! Anyone have any advice on this situation? Anyone encountered it personally?

I don't know if I was your current employer, I would sell you the beans.
I would explore your other options.

I can't give you any advise on property improvement ideas without knowing what you have but you can save tons buy purchasing some used equipment. I have purchase used everything before and set up many different restaurants and coffee shops. But now I stopped purchasing used espresso machine. I have little knowledge on rebuilding machines and i am not scared to fix things but now I just don't have time to do things like that. I would purchase brand new espresso machine but I would look into other fetco and bunn brand coffee brewer which should only cost just few hundreds to under 1000. Also I would purchase brand new espresso grinder but I would look into used grinders for the regular coffee.

La Marzocco make great machine but i would also look into Nuova Simonelli. Aurellia 2. I always loved Nuova Simonelli brand because of their durability and price.

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