12 Tips to Start a Coffee Shop

by Andrew Hetzel

The specialty coffee industry is unique. It attracts as many admirers of the product (coffee fanatics) as it does those seeking business investment and likely more. It is human nature to focus on things that are of personal interest. In the case of the coffee fanatic, that is all things coffee!

For the good of your business, put down that glossy espresso machine brochure and step back from those roasted coffee samples. Let’s spend the next few moments talking about something even more important than the product: the business of a coffee shop. I promise that it will be worth your time and that you can go back to the taste testing when we’re done.

A word of caution: this article is not intended to be a paint-by-numbers template to start a coffee shop. There are many resources online that can help you with the technical aspects of a coffee shop startup. If you are one of the self-identifying “Dummies” that is looking for a handbook to start a business you may be disappointed. Technical guides may tell you what to do but not why. This article is different. We wrote this article to raise broader conceptual issues for those preparing to make a serious physical or emotional investment. It will not tell you how to do it step-by-step.

Coffee roasters receive inquiries from prospective coffee shop owners such as: “What should I name my coffee shop?” or “Should I pick the San Macaroni 5-group espresso machine or the La Spaghetti?” Although these are legitimate questions, they fail to address more substantive business issues.

New business owners focus a disproportionate amount of time agonizing over coffee shop gear, logos and other minutia. These items will impact the appearance of a business but are not the true brand of a business. They are also not the factors that will lead to its eventual success or failure.

It’s nice to know which chocolate tastes best in a cafe mocha but the resulting drain of your time from real issues may be more costly than you expect. You may be setting a course for failure even before even before your shiny new La Spaghetti is out of the crate.