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So, You Wanna Open a Coffee Shop
by John Bowerman-Davies

Please answer the following questions with a simple Yes or No:

  1. Do you drink in excess of 10 cups of coffee per day (before 12 noon)?
  2. Do you wear more than one earring?
  3. Is your body pierced or tattooed in other places apart from your ears?
  4. Does your wardrobe consist mainly of torn tee shirts and baggy jeans?
  5. Do you shave and shower more than once per week?
  6. Are you currently living with your parents?
  7. Do you have difficulty getting out of bed before 11: am every morning?

Whether you're male or female, a "yes" answer to any of the above would be good because it would indicate that you can read, but it would also completely preclude you from starting your own business - especially your own coffee shop.

I receive phone calls, letters, e-mail and oral requests from people everyday who all profess themselves eager to open a coffee shop (and they probably want to have an acoustic guitarist playing on the weekends). They imagine themselves, and all their friends sitting around some exotic brew, listening to an untuned voice and geetar. This will NOT pay the rent.

First of all, calling it a coffee shop is the first mistake. Why? Because one-half of all red-blooded adult Americans do NOT drink coffee. So call it a coffee shop and 50% of your market will simply walk on by (wasn't there a song like that?)

Call it something like "Bob's Coffee Shop and Tea Emporium" and immediately, you have greatly enlarged your potential market. Also, plan on opening early in the morning, and make sure that you have eatables that are easy and non-messy to consume (and it also helps if they look and taste good).

And please remember the number one reason that all new businesses fail - it's because they are undercapitalized! If you are capable of producing a sensible business plan by yourself, that's great, but otherwise, get some help. One idea is to enlist the advice of retired business executives (SCORE). In addition to helping you with your business plan, they'll help you submit your plan to the SBA (Small Business Association) to secure a loan (that all-important capital).

Next, remember the golden rule of real estate - LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! If you have a lousy location on the wrong side of the road, YOU WILL FAIL. The wrong side of the road is the side that people drive on when returning home.

So now you have found a great location, but what about the building? The ideal building would be a former bank branch (and many of them are closing these days), and it will probably already have a "Drive-Thru," and it's possible that the bank will even provide financing, and also help you with the renovations. I have a client who has transformed a dismal bank into a beautiful (and successful) bagel and coffeehouse, and the bank is thrilled with their new occupant (i.e. the property is no longer sitting idle and empty).

What about equipment? Go back to square one and decide what your menu is going to be. If it's simply a matter of serving pre-wrapped pound cakes and black coffee, then your needs are going to be simple. But anything more elaborate will necessitate prep areas, wash sinks, refrigeration, display counters, and the endless list can go on. And it's at this point that the local health and fire inspectors show up and tell you everything else you'll need in order to get a license. And this is all before you have even chosen an espresso machine!

Choosing your coffee supplier is obviously of great importance, and they should also be your espresso machine supplier as well - or at least they should be working closely together. Given the enormous scope of this subject, I will cover this in another article. I'll also talk more specifically about the equipment you will need.

Now here's my most important advice...while looking for a place, and while putting all the paperwork together, go to work in a coffeehouse, or two (or even three) to obtain some real experience. Find out for yourself what it's really all about - and it may be more difficult than you could have ever imagined. And if it's really what you hoped for, than get moving!

One final thought - never stop dreaming, because dreams do come true.

So, You Wanna Open a Coffee Shop - Part 2 is now on-line

If I can be of help, contact me at

JBD John Bowerman-Davies can be contacted at

Still curious about Coffee, check out our Coffee Alphabet.

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