Maybe you always wanted to run a coffee shop. Or maybe – like me – you had that moment of epiphany, sipping on a brew in your favorite café and realizing exactly what you wanted to do with your life. But how you turn that dream into reality?
Well, I don’t have all the answers, but I learned a lot of lessons when I opened up my very own specialty coffee shop. And along the way, I ended up with a whole new coffee community. Let me share my story with you, so that they can help you on your journey.
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Coffee and snacks served at Chapter Coffee Roastery & Café. Credit: Chapter Coffee Roastery & Café
Chapter One: The Start-Up Project
Just like any other newbie trying to start a business, I didn’t understand what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that I was in love with the idea of owning a coffee shop. My love for coffee, my passion for teaching, and my personal mission of wanting to serve something I’d made myself – they drove me to open Chapter Coffee Roastery & Café.
When we opened, the mood was electric. Customers flocked in and I was delighted to see people enjoying quality food and beverages.
Yet I still didn’t have any inkling of the challenges that awaited me. Reality struck only when I discovered the realities of employee management, the need to sustain the momentum of customers coming in, the difficulties in ensuring the shop brand is well received, and more. I learned that I would need to spend time away from the coffee bar, not just behind it.
And so I started studying.
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1. As a coffee shop owner, you’ll face many challenges. Remain focused and deal with them head-on.
2. Prepare for operational challenges: remember that opening a coffee shop is about more than just serving coffee
3. Try to deal with one problem at a time – and remember that they’re all different.
Don’t forget: these challenges make you a better business owner and decision-maker.
The construction phase of Chapter Coffee Roastery & Café. Credit: Chapter Coffee Roastery & Café
Chapter 2: Creating Awareness
I knew that we were serving quality food and beverages, but I also needed to create an awareness of the third wave and what we were doing as a coffee shop.
With this in mind, I turned to my first love: teaching. Soon, we started to conduct barista training classes, coffee cupping sessions for the public, and more. This gave me a sense of fulfillment. It made me realize there’s a real connection between serving coffee and imparting knowledge to the customers about the beverage they ordered.
Now, our baristas always take the time to introduce the coffee they’re serving to guests, especially first-time visitors. It’s become a trademark of ours.
And along the way, I listened to our baristas’ feedback. What worked for them? What worked for their customers? And just as importantly, what did they see that wasn’t working?
It didn’t take long before we saw our efforts translate into sales. When customers started pouring in, we realized that we were achieving our mission: propagating coffee knowledge and artistry in the Philippines. It was a wonderful moment.
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1. Remember your goal – in my case, coffee education – and work out the best way to achieve it. Don’t be afraid to break the “rules” and have your own trademark, if it matches your vision for your coffee shop.
2. Find ways to connect with your customers – and help them connect to coffee.
3. Pay attention to your personnel, on both a professional and personal level. No matter the size, a company’s biggest asset is its people. Since we started small, our staff have experienced both the struggle and the glory of our journey. I can easily say that, without them, this journey would have been harder. Can you imagine how seamless our operations would be if our employees were motivated every single hour of every single day?
Read more! How to Keep Your Best Baristas From Quitting
Ernest Martin leads a sensory skills and coffee cupping session for customers. Credit: Mark Philip Chua
Chapter 3: Gaining Regulars
It’s rewarding to see new people coming into our coffee shop. But it’s even more gratifying to see people coming back, not only for the food and drinks but also for the conversations and atmosphere.
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It starts with constant smiles and greetings, and grows with chats about coffee and the exchange of jokes. Before you know it, your regular seat-warmers have become your friends – and what better way to help people learn about drinking coffee than by doing it as a friend? The only hard part about it is that, when they finally learn, they become harder to please!
The coffee bar is a much better place now that we have people debating which origin is better, what the ideal water temperature should be, and which brewer should be used for different kinds of single origin coffees.
And now we’re taking our friendships beyond the café: as a group, we make coffee shop visits or “coffee crawls,” locally and internationally. In my recent travels, sightseeing has taken a backseat while coffee tourism with these customer-turned-friends has become the aim.
These coffee folks come from different walks of life – they are often industry leaders in their own right – and they have been part of my journey as mentors, as inspirations, and friends.
1. There are few things more valuable than your regulars.
2. Don’t underestimate the importance of friendly baristas.
3. See your regulars as people, not customers, to build a community in your coffee shop. This community will enrich your life as well as helping to keep the coffee shop running.
Ernest Martin, Johnny Tamayo, Mikael Daez, Mark Chua (left to right, back) Megan Young, and Janica Madridejos (left to right, front) tour Hong Kong in a coffee crawl organised by Chapter Coffee Roastery & Café. Credit: Chapter Coffee Roastery & Café
As of today, my coffee shop regulars have become my coffee community. We enjoy each other’s company over a cup of coffee and we try to share a cup together wherever we are in the world. And I hope they’ll continue to be there as my coffee shop grows and I learn even more.
It’s truly exciting what coffee can throw at you, be it the challenges or the successes. So why not sip on a bittersweet espresso and start planning your coffee journey?
Want to open your own café? Check out Coffee Shop Financing Made Simple
Written by Ernest R. Martin of Chapter Coffee Roastery & Café.
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