Monday, February 02, 2009

Build a Coffeehouse: Just One Million Agonizing Steps

When I say I’m opening a coffee shop a lot of people respond with that’s their dream endeavor - or maybe not quite that, but just how cool or great they think that would be. It was never my dream to own a coffee shop. When I was in college (in Tucson) I had this quirky History professor who wore jeans and Birkenstocks and who knew more than anyone would ever want to know about the Mexican Revolution. It has always been my dream to be him – living in a warm climate, wearing comfortable shoes, discussing at length all manner of obscure, irrelevant (in any urgent, practical sense) facts and conjecture – and drinking lots of coffee, I do love my coffee. But achieving that dream requires several more years of schooling and several thousands of dollars and I’ve got mouths to feed, so this is the story of how I decided to open a coffee shop. (I still may one day pursue my original dream, but as they say, to everything there is a season blah blah blah.)

So last March I was reading an article in the NYT about Starbucks and how they affect independent coffee shops (positively) and how they’ve helped the specialty coffee market in general. This prompted me to look into the coffeehouse business model, as well as the political and trade issues specific to the industry. I e-mailed some info to my husband and wrote: “When we retire, this is what I want to do for fun.”

He read about it and wrote back to me, “It’s a great idea, just do it now – you would be awesome at running a coffee shop.”

(You’re probably thinking, isn’t he nice and doesn’t he think highly of her, but what he was really saying is: “Wouldn’t it be fun for me and the kids if you had somewhere ELSE besides home to be an anal retentive task master.”)

I was working though, and going to school and raising my kids and playing solitaire, so I collected some information, did a little research here and there, but nothing too taxing. Then last August I was laid off from my Marketing job, and after the shock and the feeling that my life was over faded, I told my husband, “I pretty sure God just told me to open a coffee shop.”

My husband understands construction and he’s already self-employed, so he was a huge help to me getting organized and such. Plus, he said, “building a coffee shop is so simple…”

And he has been a tremendous help in building it, don’t get me wrong, but I have to be the General Contractor and the architect (which means I’m in charge of coordinating everything and telling everybody what they’re supposed to do, because my husband has to also keep a roof over our heads while I’m unemployed). The only problem is, I don’t know what everybody is supposed to do… so there’s that. I’m pretty sure when we decided to do this I said that I can make coffee and discuss French poetry and keep fingerprints off the pastry glass. I’m pretty sure I did NOT say I can build a cabinet, stain concrete or even instruct anyone else on how these things should be done.

In other words, the building phase has not been fun. Luckily for me when I saw that the countertops had been built too high and I started having heart palpitations and my head started spinning around and around like the Exorcist girl, my husband was there to calmly shrug and say, “Yeah, they screwed up, they’ll have to fix it – not a big deal.” He’s good that way.

But it hasn’t all been bad! I have sampled the most glorious coffees and teas and chocolates, some with incredible stories about co-ops and communities and farmers and saving birds. I intend to blog about all of that and more on the coffeehouse website once I get it up and running (which was also supposed to have been fun and has really NOT been because I used Wordpress only to learn that I can’t edit anything with HTML… so I haven’t had time to write anything as I’ve been too busy trying to figure out just how to make it look correct).

Basically I was hoping we’d be open a month ago, but I’m still working on it. I should add that for only a 10% markup, someone else could have been the General Contractor. Had I just gone that route, instead of desperately trying all manner of meditation techniques every night, praying my stomach will un-knot enough to let me fall asleep before the alarm goes off, I would be brushing up on my Rimbaud and writing stories about coffee production and decor shopping. But why pay someone else to do something that surely I’ll be a better person some day for having learned the hard way, right?


Annie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annie said...

Hi Staci!

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I love the anecdote you posted about your son and his irreverence; I was the exact same way when I was a little girl, and to this day my mother will not let me forget what a hellion I was. This is exactly the type of content we'd like to see on Kinfo! Our team would be very interested in your feedback of our service and how you think we could improve Kinfo to suit your needs as both a mother and a blogger.

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Lisa said...

WELCOME BACK!! I took a hiatus too...had to focus on family for a bit and felt a little too overwhelmed to be writing.

Good luck with the coffee shop...I've just recently found the love of coffee...with lots of vanilla chai spice creamer. Yummo.

I have to say that your husband sounds a lot like my husband...I too have had those exorcist spinning moments just to have my calm, cool, collected husband say "It's no big deal...we'll just fix it". They are good to have around for that ;)

landismom said...

Good luck! sounds simultaneously scary & exciting.