This month, I decided to pick a charming neighborhood shop with character, and the one that caught my attention is located in a little town called Redlands in California. It is called Augie’s and today we are going to have a talk with its owner and master roaster Austin Amento.
V. Hi Austin! Great to have you here with us today! Please tell us, how did Redland’s best coffee house – Augie’s – get started, and who is Augie?
A. About four years ago, my dad Andy Amento wanted to diversify his family business of electrical contracting. We looked around at different businesses – liquor stores, minimarts, anything that was kind of a “cash” business and we found this coffee shop. It was about two years old, and it was for sale by the landlord’s kid. At the time, it was a very small mom and pops shop with very limited seating and mediocre coffee.
It is named Augie’s after the previous owner’s grandfather. We decided to keep the name, work with it, and rebrand it.
V. You have the cutest antique building for your shop! Did it present any renovation challenges?
A. Thank you. It is just about a hundred years old: I believe it was built in 1914. However, as far as renovation, yeah, it is the biggest pain in the ass out of anything we have done in the coffee shop. (Laughs…) We have to fix the plumbing all the time, but we now are to the point where we know exactly what this building needs; everything works out really well, and it is a beautiful building that we love.
V. Taking over a turnkey coffee shop business – what kind of challenges did you have to face and how did you deal with them?
A. We took a shop that already had its clientele, and everything was kind of settled on the way they wanted to make all the beverages. Over the first few months after taking over Augie’s we were hesitant to change anything, but we quickly realized that we needed to make changes to help this business to survive and get to where it needs to be in terms of growth. We started really small by redoing the bar, and knocking down walls to make room for more seating. Then two years in after having some rough summers, I decided I wanted our coffee to be really high quality, so we had to go through and change everything. We wanted to provide our customers with a consistent menu, so we have literally stripped our menu down to around eight beverages, and we make them really well. This has been the best decision for us because consistency and quality are more important to me than offering a bunch of different smoothies or blended variations of the same beverage.
Around the same time, two years ago, we put in the last of our money and bought a roaster, so we started roasting ourselves. Luckily, things turned out great for us and we are really successful now.
V. What would you do differently to avoid the pitfalls you have just described?
A. If I were to start again, I would really recommend figuring out what you want to do from the very beginning because it makes all the difference. Decide who you want to cater to from the very start and go from there. Our hardest thing was to get rid of that “cater to everyone” type of mentality. I don’t want to say that in a mean way, but if you want to provide your product in the best possible manner, sometimes you really have to change the way you do stuff. Pretty much just stick to one attitude that is right for you and allow your business to be successful instead of just trying to please everyone. Our attitude is to offer the highest quality coffee possible in our shop.
V. What is your customer base?
A. We got a real tight knit community here in Redlands, and our shop is always packed because it is hard to just go in, get a cup of coffee and go back to work. You end up hanging out for a while. If you hang out in our shop for an hour you can see the mayor, you could see all these different local business owners, professors, high school kids and graduate students – really anyone, and it is a lot of fun.
V. What amazes you about the industry?
A. The most amazing thing to me is the whole chain of steps of getting the coffee from seed to cup. The different venues, and different connections and relationships that are involved in this – It is just mind-blowing to me, and not just mind-blowing, it is life changing. I think it is a very impressive process that we all take for granted five or ten times a day. One grinds some beans and brews a cup of coffee in three minutes, and it is so easy not to think about the thousands of hands and miles it took to get here. So just helping people to understand this is something I really enjoy doing at our shop.
[iconbox title=”Augie’s Coffee House” icon=”adress_book.png”]
113 N. 5th St
Redlands, CA, 92373
Austin Amento – Owner/Master Roaster[/iconbox]