I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Most business owners didn’t know much about their business, or even about their niche before they started the process of opening.
I know that this was very true for me. My wife and I own a coffee shop and bakery called Sourdough Cuppa Joe. Prior to making the decision to begin moving forward with serious action, like looking for a location and securing equipment, I knew very little about my niche. That has changed so much!
I loved great coffee, but I knew very little about how to prepare it. I loved Sourdough Bread, but my attempts to learn to make it with predictable, repeatable results at home had been lackluster to say the least. Nevertheless, along with countless other tasks to work on leading up to opening for the first time, I was learning all I could on the topics.
Thanks to the internet, there is no shortage of information available on my niche. The challenge is sifting through this pile of information to find the truly accurate, helpful stuff.
So, I started cramming my head with information about coffee, espresso, coffee drinks, sourdough bread, sourdough starters, and on and on. Without a doubt, the best pre-opening training I received was my hands-on training with Vienna Coffee Company. Vienna was our chosen roaster and supplier for our coffee, and they really delivered when it came to helping us get ready!
My wife and I continued experimenting with and learning more about sourdough bread and sourdough starters, but we ultimately would not feel comfortable that we could keep up with the demands of the shop in this area until we had been open for several weeks.
We used another bakery in town to supply our sourdough bread for these first few weeks until we could get our confidence up and take the leap of making it in house.
Some of the hardest questions to answer when you are opening a business like ours are equipment-related questions. What kinds of equipment do I need? Where do I get this equipment? Can this brand handle the demands of my business better than a different brand? Here are some of the equipment needs we have and our recommendations.
We use a Baker’s Pride oven, and it has served us well for over two years now. We did have a couple of service calls during the warranty period related to some issues with the fan motor, but these repairs were completed at no cost to us. The oven bakes evenly and is the workhorse you need in a small bakery.
Our Avatoast (They used to be Avantco) toaster has been another piece of equipment that has delivered over and over again. This toaster has served us extremely well for over two years now. Our business demands being able to toast a slice (or multiple slices) of sourdough bread in about a minute. This is a requirement to keep the drive-thru line moving during the morning rush. This toaster will get it done!
We use a Bunn Bulk Grinder for our drip coffee grinding needs. This model also is great when customers purchase a bag of whole-bean coffee, but they want it ground because they don’t have a grinder at home. We have had zero problems with ours; it’s a great one!
For espresso, we use two different grinders – one for regular, and one for decaf. For regular espresso we use a Nuova Simonelli MDX On Demand grinder. This is one piece of equipment you can’t live without as a coffee professional, so make sure you get something that is reliable and high quality. You can’t go wrong with this grinder.
Our decaf grinder is the Nuova Simonelli Grinta. While it is much more hands on than the MDX On Demand, for decaf orders it suits us extremely well.
The Espresso Machine
We have (and love) our Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II. I can’t say enough great things about this machine. You will experience repeatable great results, while leaving much of the espresso beverage-making experience in the hands of you, the barista. I wouldn’t trade this machine for anything.
Learning from Teammates
During the buildout phase for our location, another task I was constantly busy with was interviewing and hiring team members.
We were extremely blessed during this process, as I was actually able to hire 5 team members with some kind of coffee experience. Their experience was varied, and together, these team members made another source for me to learn about coffee, being a coffee service professional, making standard coffee drinks, and creating new coffee drinks that were unique to our shop.
These team members became leaders in our shop, as together we decided how we would handle each and every little detail of our business as baristas at Sourdough Cuppa Joe.
Being a Student of the Industry
We are blessed to live in a city with a rich coffee culture. This means we are within a half hour of some great coffee shops, where we can go and be inspired by others. We can sit, watch, enjoy the experience of the coffee and food, ask questions, talk shop, etc. The coffee community is generally a very open place where everyone wants to see everyone else succeed.
I have learned so much, both pre and post opening our shop, from other coffee professionals working in other cafes. We are very different from most of the cafes I have visited, which is good, but there is so much to be learned from visiting these other businesses and talking about the challenges you, and they face.
Something new to me that I only recently discovered is the fabulous podcast “Keys to the Shop” by Chris Deferio. I mentioned the vast array of information available via the internet before. The challenge, again, is finding the good stuff, and this is definitely good stuff. I have already, in just a couple of weeks, learned so much about the coffee service industry. Chris has over 18 years of professional coffee service under his belt, and his advice is gold.
Putting it All Together
Now that you have some great options about where to learn what you need to learn, the hard part is committing to actually do the work of learning it. This will take time. You can’t learn all you need to learn in a weekend at a conference, or by binge listening to a podcast, however great the content. It is going to take time, and there is no way to short cut that system.
We would love to be a resource for you as well, as we are over two years in on this business ownership thing now. We have learned many lessons, and we would be honored to share some of what we have learned with other people who are ready to put some of these principles into practice for themselves. If that’s you, we would love to connect with you!
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