This Must Get Old For You


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Aug 13, 2013
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Here I am trying to learn what I can about opening and running a coffee shop. I have 25 years experience working in different types of restaurants. I grew up in Las Vegas cooking in the hotels. I've never owned a place but I've been the chef and helped open several places. Both on the kitchen side and the construction side. I quit the restaurant business and started tattooing six years ago. I have an art education background so tattooing was natural for me. Long story short, I'm itching to get back into the service industry again, but as an owner. It's in my blood I guess. The last few years I've learned I don't want to give myself to anything again unless it's mine. So here I am.

I live in a small town with a few drive thru places and a few Starbuck's Grocery store stands. I've found a location on Main Street that I think would be great. We had a place up the street that closed due to the building being condemned and they are not planning on reopening. It didn't seem like they knew what they were doing anyway. They spent more time trying to make soups and stuff then they did making quality coffee. The location I found is about 900 sqft with cheap rent. $700 a month. I'd have to modify plumbing and electrical, but I have some hook ups from tattooing construction workers. I can do plenty of the work myself, just not the stuff that will need a contractors license. The shop I work in is in the same building so I have a positive history with the building owner too. The big change I want to make to the building is add a walk up window. Main Street has busy commuter traffic in the morning but no where to build a drive thru to capture that. Parking is not a problem in front of the store in the morning hours as all the other stores are closed. A quick park and walk up to the window. The street gets closed down once in a while for big events and the window would be great for that. When I lived in Seattle most of my coffee came from windows like that. No one does that here. Half of the year it's too hot for walking anyway, so I understand.

I want to just do quality espresso, drinks, and a few scones and cookies and stuff. Nothing made on site as I don't want to get into the modifications, operations, and maintenance of a kitchen. Just coffee. I want to keep the interior simple as well with lot's of used materials mostly done myself. My wife has been a bartender and restaurant manager as well, so we both have plenty of service experience and friendly smiles. We both plan on working there everyday. I'm not looking to just own a cafe, I'm looking to work one. I've found a roaster in the next town who will order and store green beans and profile roast them for me. Haven't checked prices yet. I'm thinking of keeping the name simple like The Coffee Bar. There are plenty of places (not in my state) named that already so I don't see any legal challenges.

So yeah, I wanted to share. I'll be asking some annoying questions, I'm sure. Thanks for reading if you made it this far. haha
It is a great challenge in your part to open a coffee shop. Anyway in your experience with your wife may be enough to say you can be successful in your plan. But remember that business is a venture, however if you plan it well and be positive that you can make it, then congratulation in advance. Go on with your plan, and you are right to choose the booming coffee business.
Hi Al,

Thanks for giving us a rundown on where you are in the planning process. It's a lot more detailed, and it "beefs up" your original introduction message:

It sounds like you and your wife have given this a lot of thought, and it seems like you're certainly headed in the right direction.

I really like the walk-up window idea!

And, I like that you said you don't just want to own a cafe - you want to work one. It shows that you know what you're getting into, and you're ready to bring it on!

Please feel free to ask questions as you progress. We like it when people know what they're getting into and especially they've already done their homework!

Will you be designing coffee-related tatoos?? Or will you be giving up the tatoo business?

There are many things you need to also consider.
1. Identify the best coffee locally or find the reputable distributor.
2. Budget your total investment
3. Talk to few independent shop owner who are not your competition but close enough to give you advise in local market.
4. Draw up your plan
5. Identify your concept and see if there are other out there who is doing what you are craving to do.
6. Execute your plan

Few question

Is the rent that cheap in your area?
What is the typical espresso base drinks cost there.
Do you have enough electricity in the building?
Have you considered putting a small commercial oven?(for light baking) I started mine with small residential style oven which was quickly replaced by commercial oven.
Do you think 900sqft is enough? Mine is around 1900 sqft and we feel we could use little bigger space.
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Thanks for your interest. I live in lake Havasu City, Arizona. It's touristy town of about 50,000 that gets a huge influx of winter visitors. Mainly retired folks coming from colder climates. We have mild winters. Those folks would be part of my winter for sure. The summer is California boaters. I may get some business from that but I'm not located close enough to the water to make that a focus. I've lived here for ten years now and my family for over 30, so I'm familiar. I moved here from Seattle to be closer to help out some older relatives and was instantly disappointed with the coffee choices. There are a couple places I can get a decent shot depending on who's working. But nothing close to what I was used to both in quality and style. But there is definitely enough coffee going on where people are getting a taste for it. I've got to thank Starbucks for that. lol

I'm still early in planning. I have my concept and now I'm costing things trying to think of things I might miss. I've set kitchens up and my wife enough bars that we understand functionality and speed. But I don't know a barista station as well. I've pulled a few shots at various places I've cooked but I've never worked that station. As I said, I can do a bunch of the construction and I have people I can trade work and bargain with. So costs will be down for that part. Not sure how I should budget for that. I will be borrowing some money, probably from family. Should I budget like I was hiring regular workers and then hopefully come in under budget and have that money for something else? I don't want to borrow more than I need either.

As far as tattooing I won't be giving it up anytime soon. Winter slows down for me so I would cut back, then spring is busy again and I can be flexible with the hours I tattoo. The coffee shop will probably close in the afternoon as things die down early here and I could tattoo at night during the busy season. Our first four year college started last year not too far from where I want to be. It's still small but could develop years down the road to make us stay open later. For now I want to make sure I still have a day job for awhile. lol

If you know the market well, and it seems you do, this will be much easier to plan and execute.

I think first, you need to talk to someone or hopefully family or friend who is architect and ask him about local ordinance. He/she will tell you what you need to do to open a coffee shop. After that you could budget what you need or don't.
This will save you tons of headaches.
Once that is done, make your plan. Draw up your lay outs, select fixtures, price out the equipment, and decor. Now this is going to give you about 80 percent of your budget.
I would allocate 20-25 percent of your money for the unexpected expense or after open expense.
And have line of credit or extra cash ready for about 6 months of rent and expense.
This will cover your final cost to open.
If this investment makes sense to you, go for it. But if it is too much, don't waste your time. It will be too difficult to open. And also if you decide to open, make sure it will be about 2 moths before your busy season. Not 6 months before.
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Rent varies here. This is pretty cheap. Half of this mall has been vacant since I've worked in it. Basically since when the housing market dropped. Its coming back slow. It's in the old downtown area that has been slowly going through a revitalization. Most big places don't want a location like this, so rent is cheaper. They'd rather have highway access with tons of parking. But it's a good location for what I want to do. Electricity is a concern I haven't inquired about yet. Most of the spaces here have been used for retail but there was a coffee shop here at one time. Wasn't a very big one. There is also a 1,200 sqft space open that would work as well. I'm tossing that idea around. I have thought about baking there. Not sure if I'd need to get into hood fans and grease traps and stuff. I kind of didn't want to. I've thought of upgrading and having my home kitchen inspected so I could use that. It is a family business. haha Deep down I'm trying to keep a kitchen out of it so I don't give in to my chef side and want to start doing all kinds of food. I want to keep it simple and stay focused on making coffee.

A small latte here is around three bucks.
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Thanks for the advice CoffeeJunky. I have some friends that work for the city I can ask on local ordinance. I'll get to that.
You will have to have cooler, or coolers, espresso maker will require 220v, your freezer, fridge, and oven will all require electricity. Don't forget the coffee maker.
The baking is not anything extensive. Buy ready bake dough from GFS or local market. That way you can serve fresh baked good that anyone can bake. In my coffee shop, i have evening person bring out the frozen dough and when they come in the morning, they bake. I don't have any chef or cook. Just anyone who is working in the morning put it in the oven for 15 mins and its done. I sell tons of these.

Also, if you are really wanting to make great coffee, consider putting more money and open with your own roaster. That will require more study and learning but you will be able to serve coffee that you can be proud.