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For many coffee lovers, going into the coffee business seems like a natural extension of their love for the delicious bean. For most, the desire is a nebulous dream, a sort of hazy image of them pouring coffee for a succession of patrons, or presiding over the espresso machine behind the counter. Others are drawn to the coffee business by the realization that there’s good money to be made selling America’s favorite hot beverage to its multitude of fans. Those who get serious about making a living selling coffee soon find that there are many different ways to do that.
You need to determine which coffee shop concept will be right for your location and which will suit you best. This short list of the main types of coffee bars can help you decide what type of coffee business is the best fit for you, your temperament and your location.
Cafes are the Cadillac of the coffee bar set. Typically, they focus on selling coffee drinks, and usually offer lunch and dinner menus. They’re actually closer to being a full service restaurant, and may have to be licensed as such. It’s also the most expensive coffee bar concept to start up, since you’re actually doing a full restaurant startup.
Coffee bars focus on selling brewed coffee rather than beans, and often offer baked goods — cookies, muffins, coffee cakes and the like. If they offer seating at all, it will only be a few tables. They’re ideal for high traffic locations such as malls and bus stations, and can be very profitable on a minimal investment.
When most people think of starting their own coffee business, they imagine a coffeehouse. It’s the type of place made famous as the favorite hangout of the gang on “Friends” — comfy sofas and armchairs, bookshelves for browsing and poetry and music open mike nights. In addition to opening your own independent coffee shop, you can choose from a fairly large number of coffeehouse franchises. A coffee house is a great choice for a college town or small city. You’ll put in a lot of work, but a well-run coffeehouse can become a social hub that is successful for years.
If you’d rather supply people with the means to make their own wonderful coffee at home, a retail coffee shop may be the best type of business for you. Retail coffee shops generally focus on selling coffee beans and giftware associated with coffee — mugs, French presses and specialty coffee items. You may choose to set up a retail coffee shop inside a coffee bar or build a standalone coffee gift or retail shop.
Drive thru coffee shops can do great business and be very profitable in the right location — typically on a busy commuter road with lots of going-to-work traffic. Like coffee shops, you can try going the independent route, or choose from one of many coffee drive thru franchises.
Mobile coffee businesses offer generally lower startup costs and flexibility you won’t have in other types of coffee businesses. The focus is usually on brewed coffee and packaged pastries, and they can be quite successful if you’re committed to making the rounds of profitable locations — train stations to catch the commuter crowd, or setting up at events such as fairs and festivals.
Roasteries that retail their own roasted beans have a number of advantages over other types of coffee bars and businesses. Generally, roaster/retailers roast green coffee beans on site, and sell the beans and coffee products. The markup on roasted beans is healthy, and the related food costs are typically lower, translating into a higher bottom line profit.
The type of coffee business you choose will determine your startup costs and your risks, but your determination, knowledge and skills will determine your success. The coffee business is still a growing industry, and there’s plenty of room for you to make your mark in it.