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How To Start A Coffee Shop: Your Step-By-Step Guide

Watch out Starbucks

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Starting and running a business — particularly a coffee shop — may require a Herculean amount of work and effort, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Food and beverage shops are notoriously difficult to execute properly, and that carries even more true for a “luxury” item like getting a coffee drink from a store versus brewing at home. However, if marketed and executed correctly to make itself worthwhile in the customer’s mind and routine, a coffee shop can not only become a physical neighborhood staple but an integral part of a community.

 

We spoke with Noah Jashinski, general manager of Joe’s Coffee Pro Shop in New York City  — who also has a robust history of opening and managing various types of coffee shops — about how to get started and what budding entrepreneurs should prepare for along the way.

Know Your Vision

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The first thing an entrepreneur should have in place is their vision and brand. None of the other pieces can come together to form a business in any industry without that information. And particularly for a cafe, there are a plethora of questions to answer up front.

 

What will your brand be? What kind of coffee do you want to serve: your own, other roasters’, or a blend? Elaborate frilly drinks or the classics? Batch brew, or only pour-over? Who is your customer? What kind of budget does that customer have? What do you want the vibe and flow of your shop to be like? How will you market it? How will this shop affect the neighborhood and community it will live in?

 

One example Jashinski offers is the magnitude of contrast in, say, a New York boutique coffee shop serving up the basics versus a hotel coffee bar in Nashville that specializes in extravagant espresso-based drinks. It may not seem like a huge difference, but the disparity affects everything: the vibe, the expected customer, the menu, the layout of the space, and the prep time of each drink that in turn affects how many you can make in a day, to name a few.

 

All these questions are starting points that should have definite answers. Though it’s okay if some things change along the way (Jashinski assures that Murphy’s Law will show up), the answers to these questions will be your north star as you begin to forge your vision into a tangible reality.

Create the Space

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Creating the physical space can be incredibly exciting since it’s the first visible, physical step of the dream becoming reality. However, construction really should be the execution of what has already been pre-planned and approved to be the most efficient. This means having done the homework on codes in an area, paperwork that must have already been filed, and assessing what may need to be fixed up well before ever locking in a location. Otherwise, the mistakes can be costly against what could already be a tight budget.

 

Exhibit A of the required homework is how the product will be made in a potential location. Does it have the proper pipe locations and space required for industrial coffee brewing? Are the floors or walls concrete? Where are the drains? Does anything need to be refurbished? Knowing what the local area functionally requires to operate as well as what you personally want for your brews can be the difference in $20,000 in construction versus $200,000. The last thing an entrepreneur wants is to blow their whole budget before the shop’s event opens.

 

And things do add up, particularly when taking into account the expensive equipment required for a cafe. Jashinski has paid a whopping $15,000 for water filtration systems, and that was with a discount. For that amount, “you could buy a fucking car,” he said. But that cost is essential for quality control: its dual-filter system incorporating paper and metal filters ensures absolutely pure water and that there will be no surprises with any given batch of coffee.

 

Along with the product production, it’s crucial to think about the layout for the customer’s experience. Jashinski says it’s the first thing he notices anytime he enters a shop: How is this space optimized for the customer? It can be easy to rush into the placement of things, but the layout is super important. How is the business going to flow? And is the interior design both appealing and efficient? A business owner could design stuff because it looks pretty, but the way it unfolds is awful. There could be not enough room behind the bar. If the flow of the customers into the waiting area doesn’t work, then people are gonna get clogged up waiting for drinks. Ideally, it’s already been fleshed out in the concept and then blueprints, but this is the time to fix any errors.

 

Lastly, Jashinski warns about becoming too focused on the “perfect location” that inevitably doesn’t pan out. "Fall in love with your idea, not the bricks,” he said since any given location can fall through, which can be heartbreaking to the budding entrepreneur.

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