Advice for Opening A Coffee Shop From The Best In the Business

If you had any advice for someone opening a coffee shop, what would it be? That's one of the questions I ask every week during the #LocalBites podcast. And I get some really insightful answers. 

For those of you considering opening up your first coffee shop, I've compiled the best advice for this list. Below, you'll find an excerpt from the podcast itself. 


1. Your Coffee Shop Needs To Specialize In Something

To have a coffee shop that stands out, you need to have one thing that you excel at, according to Jerson Reyes, the owner and operator of Caffè Sole in Edmonton, AB. Jerson has opened lots of businesses in his time, including two coffee shops in two different countries.


"Most importantly, I would say that if you want to be successful, don’t offer what everyone else is offering. You need to stand out. You need to specialize in something.

"In Mexico, something peculiar happens. Tijuana is becoming a foodie destination,  and what happens is that there’s pretty much a taco stand on every corner. But the taco stands that stand out, stand out because they serve one single item that is head and shoulders above what everyone else sells. So if you go to the taco stand that sells spicy shrimp tacos, they have the best ones, and that’s what they sell the most of. You can see the lineups going around the corner for the product. There’s another one that sells beef, they sell the best beef, and they focus on the beef. You don’t open a taco stand without any direction, or focus."

- Jerson Reyes, owner of Caffè Sole


2. You Need To Be A Service-Oriented Person

Coffee is the life force of a lot of people. It's a special treat, it's a routine, it's social or it's productive. Coffee means something different to everyone that comes into your coffee shop. And that's something you need to be excited about to succeed, according to Paul Peterson, the President of Wake Oasis Coffee.


"I think you need to have some passion for the coffee. I think that part is important.
But I feel like sometimes that’s an overstated part. I really think when you’re in a public-facing role, whether it’s a coffee shop, restaurant, whatever, you need to have a passion for the people.
"You really have to care about how your product makes them feel. You really have to respect the customer, and their choice to bring their $2, $3, $4, $5, or $7 up and to spend that money with you."
- Paul Peterson, President of Wake Oasis Coffee


3. Be Ready To Put In The Work

Running a coffee shop is a lot of hard work and long hours. When we asked Sean Brown, owner of Impact Coffee, he said that anyone willing to put in the hours and find the right niche will find success. 

Finding that niche can be the hard part, but Sean has found that his community is happy to rally around the craft.


"I think you just need to be prepared for just a lot of hard work and long hours. If you can find a niche that supports small craft coffee, and if you're willing to put in the work and the hours you can definitely make a go of it."

- Sean Brown, Owner of Impact Coffee


4. Do Your Research

Passion and knowledge will get you pretty far in life. When it comes to starting a new business, doing your research will ensure you're as prepared as possible. Having passion will sustain you through the things you can't prepare for.

Olivia Soseman with Iron + Grain says that her team's passion has gotten has allowed their coffee shop chain to grow and succeed. 


"I'm sure this gets said a lot, but do your research. I'm sure that sounds silly but I have been with Iron + Grain since the beginning. I'm not the owner, but I've been with it since the business plan stage.

"I can't believe how much we've learned just in the last three years. Even between each location, how much we've learned. I would have had no idea how much work it entails to keep things running, keep people happy, make sure they're engaged, and bring customers in.

"It's not just owning a business. It's all fun and games sometimes. Sometimes it's making hard decisions. So I would say, do your research, and also have a passion for it. 

"Iron + Grain wouldn't be where it is today without the passion and love that each employee, barista, and manager, at the upper level, Andrew and Marguerite, put into it.  

"That passion gets you through the valleys. As a lot of people say, in owning a business there are a lot of high highs, and a lot of low lows. That passion gets you through and reminds you why you started."

- Olivia Soseman, Director of Communications with Iron + Grain


5. Don't Be Afraid To Ask Questions

You don't need to know all the answers. What you do need, is a team that can help you find them. You also need to have the self-awareness to know when to listen and ask questions, according to Seth Weber, one of the co-owners of Mocha Nut Coffee in Indianapolis, IN.

In the podcast episode Putting The Team First With Seth Weber, we talked about the importance of putting your team first. When I asked him what advice he had for someone opening a coffee shop, his advice was simply to listen. 

"I think just learning to listen. Slow down and ask questions. You don't have to have all the answers. If you all work together you're going to be able to come up with some solutions. I think a lot of times we try to have all the answers ourselves and we don't want to go look or ask around. I think that really shoots us in the food. It's ok to not have all the answers."

- Seth Weber, Co-Owner of Mocha Nut Coffee


6. Learn How To Taste

You can only serve good coffee if you know what good coffee tastes like. Mike Ayars' advice is to really understand specialty coffee and the product that you're providing your customers with. Mike owns Turnstile Coffee Roasters in Belmar, NJ, and while they roast their own coffee beans, that's not the only way you can provide amazing coffee.

You can buy wholesale from a single roaster, roast it yourself, or buy a selection from different roasteries. But, no matter how you source coffee for your coffee shop, it's important that you provide excellent coffee. And to do that, you need to learn how to taste.


"My advice, it's gonna be very strong about the coffee side, about specialty coffee and about learning what it is and how to taste it. Because that is going to be, certainly, you're gonna do good service but everybody should be doing good service, right? Everybody should be trying to create that experience.

"Not everyone does it, of course, but that's going to be a given that you're going to do, You're gonna deliver good service. But what you can distinguish yourself is understanding what good coffee is, because whether that person coming through the door knows that it's called specialty coffee or not, they still care about the taste.

"And when they get in that car in the morning, they're going to say, “We're going back to that place because I know that that coffee was good." Whether it's a conscious thing or not, they know it. And if you don't know how to taste coffee and you don't know what good coffee is you're never gonna have that aspect of it.

"And that's what can distinguish you. Because there's a lot of competition out there from every other shop. So it's understanding what specialty coffee is and learning how to cup, learning how to do that blind cupping and being able to figure out which coffee is better. I would start there."

- Mike Ayars, Owner of Turnstile Coffee Roasters


7. Be Patient

Rome wasn't built in a day. It takes time to build a successful business, and Anas Alsaid, co-owner of Pistachio Sweetery Cafe in Vancouver, British Columbia says that it's important to remember and plan for that.

Be ready to not be profitable for the first six months to a year. Have a plan for income during that time, and be ready to put in the hard work to make your dream a reality.


"I can give very few pieces of important advice. I would say you need to be very patient. You need to wait for the right opportunity. If you have a stable income that you can keep that will be really helpful because, at the beginning, I would say the first 6 months, will be very challenging and very hard. Don't expect results within the first 6 months to even a year."

- Anas Alsaid, Co-Owner of Pistachio Sweetery Cafe