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Starting a Coffee Shop?

Bruce Milletto, president of Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup, spills the beans on how you can create a successful and profitable coffee business.


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Frequently Asked Questions About Opening a Coffee Shop

Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions we get about owning and operating a retail specialty coffee business.

Given all the competition, is opening a specialty coffee business still viable?

Yes. The demand for specialty coffee is growing every day. Even in the mature coffee markets of Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, opportunity still exists for new coffee businesses. In other parts of the country, there is vast opportunity. Italy, with a population of 60 million, has over 200,000 coffee bars. In comparison, the U.S. has approximately 15,000 coffee bars with a population of 290 million. Do the math!

How do I find good information about opening a coffee business and know it's not a sales pitch to buy products?

Get your information from a reputable company like Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup. Since 1991, Bellissimo has set the standard for education and training in the specialty coffee industry. We have been in the business longer than any other consulting company, and thousands of coffee business owners have benefited from our experience and created profitable operations. Unlike other coffee industry consultants, Bellissimo does not sell products or equipment - the information you receive from us is unbiased and in your best interest, not ours.

How do I start?

You start by becoming a student of the coffee business. Attend tradeshows and subscribe to industry periodicals. Buy books about opening a specialty coffee business, including Bean Business Basics, Bellissimo's 740-page start-up/operational manual and the most comprehensive book available on the subject. Some choose to start their coffee business education by attending Bellissimo's American Barista & Coffee School, the first and only professional school in the U.S. devoted to coffee business education and hands-on barista training.

The next step is to hire an experienced consulting company like Bellissimo to help you develop your concept and advise you during the start-up phase.

How do I determine the right location for my coffee shop?

Finding a good location generally requires effort, persistence and patience. Probably one of the hardest things for people to realize is that the right location is worth waiting for. Take time to find the right location, even if it takes six months to a year.

Your location considerations will, of course, depend upon your concept. You will need a different type of location for an upscale, sit-down coffee bar than you would for a cart or drive-thru operation. One factor common to all desirable locations, however, is the proximity of a large population of potential coffee drinkers. Your business needs to be in a convenient location for customers - on their way to work in the morning, around the corner from where they work, or in the mall where they shop.

How long does it take from the time I sign my lease to the day I open my doors?

In most cases, from the day you sign your lease and go through the process of designing your coffeehouse, planning your menu, and building out your store, four to six months have passed. Some people want to do it faster, but the process can rarely be completed in less time.

How much does it cost to open a coffee business?

  • Coffee Cart: Average cost is between $20,000-$25,000.
  • Kiosk: Depending on the size and your menu, average costs are between $25,000-$75,000.
  • Drive-Thru: We have heard of entrepreneurs who have opened very small units for less than $35,000. A large drive-thru can cost between $80,000-$200,000.
  • Sit-Down: Average cost of a 1,200 sq. ft. coffee bar is between $200,000 to $375,000.

I have a unique concept. How do I obtain financing?

Your concept may be unique, but you need to convince lending institution that it can be successful and that you possess the expertise-alone or collectively-to ensure that it will be profitable. The best way to do this is with your business plan.

Bellissimo consultants have written hundreds of business plans that have helped their clients obtain financing and locations. When we write your business plan, we focus on exactly what you are trying to achieve, precisely where you want to go, and exactly how you plan to get there. We detail the many expenses involved in opening your business, the projected sales and monthly expenses of actual operation, and the volume of business you will need to generate to be profitable. It is critical to understand all of financial aspects of your proposed business before approaching a lender.

My roaster has offered to do my barista training. Should I take him up on it?

Probably not. In our opinion, less than 20 percent of coffee roasters and espresso machine dealers have good training programs. You should have an expert train your staff to ensure they understand the fundamentals of beverage preparation and learn to make a consistent drink every time.

Many equipment and coffee companies offer training to entice individuals to select their products over a competitor's, even if their staff is unqualified to teach. Their salesperson may understand all the nuances of proper preparation, but the information is usually passed along to a coffee shop owner in a brief, initial training session. The owner is then left with the responsibility of training their new employees without the benefit of comprehensive training.

How should I train my baristas?

There's more than one way to train a barista, and Bellissimo is the only company that offers a variety of training programs. From on-site training to classes at the American Barista & Coffee School to our award-winning training DVDs, Bellissimo has an option to meet your specific training needs.

Why should I train my employees to pour latte art?

There are many reasons you should insist your baristas learn fancy art pours, often called caffe latte art. The first is marketing. Customers will remember your business if you serve them beautiful cappuccinos presented with flair. Knowing how to pour latte art also assures your baristas are steaming milk properly, a necessary component of the technique. Additionally, having this skill gives baristas a gigantic sense of pride, and makes their job more fun, interesting and challenging.

Because latte art has become an important component in marketing a coffee business, Bellissimo has produced Advanced Barista Training: Extreme Pours, a DVD that teaches sophisticated latte art techniques in addition to the fundamentals of coffee grinding, espresso extraction and milk texturing. Classes on latte art are also taught at the American Barista & Coffee School.

How is the American Barista & Coffee School different from other coffee schools?

The American Barista & Coffee School [ABC's] is the first and only professional school in the U.S. devoted to coffee business education and hands-on barista training. Unlike many other barista training programs and schools, we are not equipment dealers or roasters trying to sell you a certain product. We teach our students on numerous machines, expose them to myriad coffees and allow them to make the choices that are best for their specific business situation. All the training and information you receive at ABC's is unbiased and in your best interest.

How do I compete with the large chain operation that just opened across the street from my café?

Quality products and service are where the small operator can really compete against the chains. First, you can take more care in hiring your employees than the chains. Then, you can put your baristas and other staff through a careful training program instead of the quick cookie-cutter course that many chains use. That will assure they know how to prepare the best drinks.

What big chain executives can't do is interact with customers each day to gain a feeling for the pulse of the community. There is no way they can offer the personal touch that you can as a local owner. This is your biggest competitive edge, so take advantage of it.

I need to breathe life into my existing coffee shop business. How can you help me?

Bellissimo consultants are industry leaders who have owned, operated or managed multi-unit retail coffee businesses. We can assist you in analyzing your current business situation and propose ways to improve your operation's structure, efficiency and profits.

Can I call former Bellissimo clients?

Yes. We respect our client's privacy, so we don't post their names and phone numbers on the Internet. Please call us and we will give you contact information.

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Bean Business Basics 3-Pack

Bean Business Basics 3-Pack

A comprehensive package for starting and running a specialty coffee business.

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Bean Business 4-Pack

Bean Business 4-Pack

A comprehensive package for starting and running a specialty coffee business that includes advanced espresso training.

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Bean Business 5-Pack Plus

Bean Business 5-Pack Plus

A comprehensive package for starting and running a specialty coffee business that includes complementary foods and beverages.

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