What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Cafe: Part 2

Special to Barista Magazine
Published January 3, 2018

Photos by Elli McGuire

While every entrepreneurial experience is unique, there are a number of commonalities that we share in our struggle. In the first part of this series, we addressed the importance of creating a foundation of good paperwork, bookkeeping, and financial planning at the start of your project. In this second installment, we’ll unpack what to look for in a location, how to navigate negotiations, and more.

Location, the Structural Integrity of Your Foundation, Location

When considering the location of your prospective café, be sure to consider factors such as the population density in the surrounding area, the amount of foot traffic passing by, a customer’s ease of access, and street visibility. But don’t allow yourself to be romanced by these factors alone: Love can be dangerously blind when you become enamored with a “perfect” spot.

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The condition of your building and the property it is on can drastically affect your build-out costs. Have a professional (like an engineer) visit your site to inspect the plumbing, electrical, and structural integrity prior to negotiations with your landlord. Better yet, join them when they do the inspections so that you can know what to look out for in the future, and so you can make sure they aren’t cutting corners.

Other questions you should ask before signing: Is your building in a historic neighborhood? Is the building landmarked? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” you may encounter major renovation limitations from your city or state. Be sure to budget for this, both in time and finances.

Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

Just because you’ve found your dream location doesn’t mean that you don’t have negotiating power with your landlord. Typically when rental agreements (and other similar contracts) are written, they’re developed from templates that begin with fairly generic terms. It’s the responsibility of the lessee to comb through the contract and customize the terms to meet their needs. Negotiating is expected, but you can’t negotiate blindly.

“Make asks based on what’s important to you,” says Undercurrent Coffee founder Todd Huber. “Know what you want ahead of time, and have a firm understanding of what you’re trying to keep and what you’re willing to lose.” Todd suggests learning as much as possible about the local market before beginning negotiations, and to enlist the help of an experienced attorney to ensure that you’re not being taken advantage of. He warns, “Be sure to understand each phrase in layman’s terms. When it comes to contracts, every word matters.”

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Outsource Your Weaknesses

Having a love for coffee is only one small piece of the puzzle of running a successful café. In some instances, enlisting the help of experienced industry professionals can help fill in those blanks. Deceptively simple tasks like designing a bar with good workflow or choosing the proper material for your work surfaces can turn into big headaches down the road if you don’t have prior barista or café management experience.

“The most challenging element is the unknown. There are so many details to operations, and they are constantly changing,” says Sam Penix, owner of Everyman Espresso. “If this is your first café build, hire a great consultant. … Knowledge is power, and you’ll pay for your education one way or another—either through costly mistakes or [by] employing a guide.”

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In the third part of this series, we’ll share ways that you can protect yourself and your business, stretch your budget, build a good relationship with your contracting team, and more.

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