Opening a Coffee Shop?

What I Wish I Knew

Starting a coffee business is not for the faint of heart. It will bring blood, sweat and tears.

Yet, there’s still something that makes the pursuit worthwhile despite being strapped for cash, overworked and underpaid, running on an un-human amount of sleep, and grappling with the constant uncertainty of your decision to start something of your own.

We asked individuals behind some of America’s best cups to share what they wish they knew before opening their coffee shops. From mistakes made to tricks of the trade, you’re bound to discover at least one nugget of wisdom that will save you time, money, energy and quite possibly your sanity.

“I wish I had become more of a handyman before launching my business.” 

– Peter Brown, Six Shooter Coffee (Cleveland, OH)

“I wish I knew… to hire a good bookkeeper! It’s my #1 piece of startup advice. If you can’t trust your numbers, then you can’t really measure your business. We’ve spent the better part of a year cleaning up the mistakes we made when managing our own books.” 

– Matt Bachmann, Wandering Bear Coffee (New York, NY)

“I wish I had known that you could lease equipment, and they come with service contracts.” 

– Jonathan Rubinstein, Joe Coffee (New York, NY)

“I wish I had known to work with an accountant BEFORE the first dollar was ever put into a bank account.” 

– Colby Barr, Verve Coffee Roasters (Santa Cruz, CA)

“I wish I had known how important taking the time to eat proper meals and exercise could be for managing stress. When you are run down or not feeling well, no one is going to take care of the business for you. It is imperative you do all you can to try to stay as healthy as possible.” 

– Caroline Bell, Cafe Grumpy (New York, NY)

“The amount that was needed for impact fees and building permits cost nearly as much as the work itself. I recommend spending a good amount of time with your architect and your city planning department prior to securing funding or signing a lease on a space that may end up costing more than you know.” 

– Joe Shafer, Slow by Slow (Boise, ID)

“The piece of advice I would give to all budding entrepreneurs is that whatever dollar amount you think you need to get everything done… double it!  The most expensive thing that you will ever deal with in your business is “Time” and it will cost you a lot of money.” 

– Caleb Garn

“If you aren’t financially smart, it will be doomed. We had to do a lot of course correcting, optimizing, and leak plugging since we opened. I wish I had done a lot more research into costs, the profitability of certain offerings, and overall, a more refined business plan.” 

– Marco Suarez, Methodical Coffee (Greenville, SC)

“I wish I would have prioritized having working capital in the bank when we opened to have room to grow once the dust settled after our first 6 months.” 

– Lindsay Windsor, Lord Windsor Coffee (Long Beach, CA)

“I wish I’d known that we could roast our own coffee, rather than buying from out of state for the first 6 years—We would have provided opportunities, expanded outside of NY and had a wholesale program much earlier.” 

– Jonathan Rubinstein

“I wish I had known to not underestimate our growth. I started with a 6-pound batch size San Franciscan. I was forecasting slow, but steady growth at the beginning. Very quickly, I found we were roasting 30+ batches per day! It took us a few months to secure and install a larger roaster, and those few months of being “at capacity” slowed our growth.” 

– Micah Svejda, Bootstrap Coffee Roasters (St. Paul, MN)

“I wish I had known that an expensive accountant that is good is much cheaper than a cheap accountant who is bad. It ended up being far costlier in both time and money than bucking up for a quality accountant from the get go.”

– Geoffrey Meeker, French Truck Coffee (New Orleans, LA)

“I wish I had known the importance of hiring great people—even if it meant spending a bit more than I was comfortable with. Bad employees end up costing a business much more in the long run.” 

– Josh Zad, Alfred Coffee (Los Angeles, CA)

“I wish I’d started out with a more focused grassroots marketing effort. People do business with people. Find networking groups, find business mixers, and find coffee lovers. Get video customer testimonials. Get referrals. Get business owners willing to share their customer and employee bases with you.” 

– Alex Moen, Match Made Coffee (Oceanside, CA)

“I wish I had known to put more stock in the feedback we get from our customers right from the start. I had lots of my own ideas, but the customers have an even better idea as to what is providing good service to them.” 

– Will Shurtz, Methodical Coffee (Greenville, SC)

“In the beginning, we spent a lot of time on every step of the process from sales leads and producing our coffee to SELF-distributing our coffee. We realized we had to scale with the right partners, removing ourselves from the distribution business. We wish we had known how amazing our distribution partners would have been from the beginning if we found the right ones.” 

– Hudson Gaines-Ross, RISE (New York, NY)

“I wish I had started with a proper board of directors or advisors. A good board can guide you to make smarter and more efficient decisions, which is key in a competitive market.” 

– Steven Sutton, Devoción (New York, NY)

“There’s a tremendous amount of freedom to be found in offloading certain responsibilities onto other qualified partners. Find people you can trust, allow them to do their job, and focus your energy on the areas where you can have the greatest impact.” 

– Jonathan Riethmaier, Mammoth Espresso (New Orleans, LA)

“I wish I knew that when you’re starting out, it feels like for every two steps forward, you take one step back. That’s just the name of the game—it’s all about cultivating patience and celebrating those little victories!” 

– Noushin Ketabi, Vega Coffee (Estelí, Nicaragua / New York, NY)

“I wish I had taken the time in the beginning to celebrate all the wins along the way instead of moving on so quickly to the next issue or task at hand.” 

– Chris Campbell, Chameleon Cold Brew (Austin, TX)

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Samantha Novick is a Marketing Associate at Bond Street, a company focused on transforming small business lending through technology, data and design. 

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