A Third Place with Katie Kutler
In November 2022, Kaffé Karma will open its doors as a coffee shop and yoga studio in Wilmington, DE. The owner, Katie Kutler joined us on this week's episode to talk about how the process of opening the coffee shop is going, and how much she's learned along the way.
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Yoga, Coffee & Retail
What’s the concept behind Kaffé Karma? What drove you to open it?
Sure. Kaffé Karma is a coffee shop by day and a yoga and meditation studio by evening with wellness and holistic-focused workshops on the weekends.
So kind of a mix of everything. I kind of feel like I am a master of none, a Jack of all trades. I feel like a lot of people in this industry say that, and that kind of brings them to opening a coffee shop. They're interested in people and the community, and they like to keep busy. They like creative work.
I was full-time nutrition coaching, working for myself, and so I spent a lot of time sitting on my laptop in different coffee shops, and there were a lot of things that I was like, “man, I wish that they offered this” or, “I wish I had this,” and I just realized that coffee shops are your local community hubs.
Often, like everybody migrates to their local coffee shop in one way or another. Even if they are Starbucks people or Dunkin’ people, they typically will find themselves being invited to a meeting or something of that matter to go to their local coffee shop. And I just felt myself over time being like, “Oh, I just love the vibe of a local coffee shop.”
The employees look like they enjoy their time here, and you see the same faces all of the time. And I have always been into food. I've always considered myself a foodie and I love hosting for myself. I like to call it, when I make plates, I make aesthetically pleasing toast.
And I will pour sparkling water into a wine glass and like throw some fruit in there just to like to make my eating environment a little bit more enjoyable. And it's something that I got progressively more interested in as I worked from home because the setting was the same almost all of the time.
And that combination of being in that coffee shop environment and then hosting for myself and enjoying that. I would dream to have this brick-and-mortar to myself one day that I own and operate and run one. I love managing, I love being connected to people, and I love community events.
But on the outside, if you were to look at my resume, you'd be like, “How the hell did you end up here?”
During the pandemic, I started to lose a lot of nutrition clients. Most people were losing work or finding themselves furloughed from their jobs.
I came home to my husband one day and I was like “I need to go on a walk. I need to run something by you.”
And I was like, “I have this dream and I just feel like life is short and will you support me going and working at coffee shops and seeing if I like doing this?”
And he was a hell of yes about it and kind of just spiralled from there. And now we're here.
I actually dropped out of nursing school to become a yoga instructor. I wanted to go a holistic route and I had about a year left of nursing school. Sorry, mom and dad. But I knew that I wanted to do something more holistic and I was interested in yoga and meditation. I had been going to a yoga studio for a while.
I was doing yoga for a while and I needed a part-time job. So I started working at Lululemon, which is an athletic wear brand. It's very popular in Canada.
But I didn't realize how much the brand did for their employees. They taught me how to be a manager. They taught me how to essentially run a business. They teach you the back end of visual merch. They teach you sales, you focus on daily sales, monthly sales, and quarterly sales.
I was working in the community, so it gave me the experience of not only connecting with other gyms, other studios, and other instructors, but I was able to get my yoga teacher certification. During that time I was able to build a network and see what other people were doing and experience it. In that process, I actually met a girl that I actually kind of helped with her community in building her yoga cafe.
Which is where I first heard the concept and I was like, “this is awesome.” Like cuz what is your coffee shop in the afternoon? At the end of the day, you can certainly keep it open all day, but I don't see why not. You wouldn't use it for anything else that you're interested in.
We can fit two mats next to one another down this—almost like a rectangle box is how our space is shaped. So we can fit about eight mats, two mats next to each other, going straight back. But I actually got—the interior designer that I'm working with got these designer sofas that are light enough that you can stack them into a corner so one person can move them, which is great.
They're very low profile. I can fit up to four or five extra mats up there as well. So I can fit a relatively large class of 12 to 15 people if I really wanted to. We have floor-to-ceiling curtains going in, which will block off windows in the front and the back of the space, which are floor-to-ceiling windows. Tons of candles, incense and all that good stuff.
So we're able to pretty much transition the space completely to being a yoga studio.
That’s quite a bit in one space.
I kind of laugh at myself because—wow, not only did you go to do your first brick-and-mortar business, but you did it threefold. You're doing coffee, yoga, and in-store and online retail. I just really knocked it outta the park for myself with that one.
But transitioning the space. I mean, we're 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM Monday through Friday and 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday.
And I know that some people think that we're having a really long day during the week or that we're starting too late on the weekend. But I did it intentionally so that we had a lot of cafe time. A lot of people want to enjoy a beautiful zen space throughout the day, while also having the space that we can make a community hub.
We have enough hours on the weekend to support workshops and events of all kinds. And that weekend or the weekday timeframes after we close at 4:00 PM, that allows me a 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM class, a 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM, and a 7:30 PM to 8:00 PM meditation class. I am able to support yoga without being a full-blown yoga studio as well.
Preparing to Open A Coffee Shop
You worked at coffee shops to learn about operating one?
Yes, I picked a couple of different local coffee shops. Pretty intentionally.
There's a space in Glen Mills, PA called Terrain Cafe, and it's owned and operated by Urban Outfitters, but it's not a coffee shop. It's more like a restaurant, but it's gorgeous.
It's very rustic, very vintage-y, but there are plants everywhere and people travel from all over to go there.
And I was like, “I wanna be a barista there,” and there were no barista jobs open. I started as a hostess just to get my hands in there, and I kind of realized—I don't think it ever really hit me that I was going into the restaurant industry. I was still thinking of a community hub space where everybody can come and be there.
And it wasn't until I got into the space that I was like, “Oh, I'm going into the restaurant industry, I am about to hire people for making sandwiches and to be in food and beverage.”
I started there and I realized I wasn't gonna get much barista training there. So I went to our local most popular coffee shop around here, and I had enough management experience I applied as a manager, and got the job.
And so I was coming pretty much no restaurant experience to managing essentially a restaurant. There were people above me, people besides me that were more important than me, or you know, had a lot of say over what I did as well, but I learned so much in a really short period of time.
And the entrepreneur life wasn't really something that I was unfamiliar with. I already was gritty. I knew that I had to hustle. I knew that I was gonna work odd hours or that I was gonna have to stay past my clock-out time, or come in and help on an off day of mine. My husband owns a gym, so I've seen that aspect as well of owning a business.
One of his personal training clients approached me and was like, “What are you doing working at this coffee shop? I thought your nutrition coaching business was doing well”. And I was like, “Actually, it's not during the pandemic and I want to open a coffee shop.”
And he was like, "Wait, what?” And now that same guy is my investor. So it is just full circle. Full circle stuff.
What’s the most important thing you learned during that process?
I think that doing that was the most informative experience that I could have done, and I think I could have spent another five years bouncing around all the different coffee shops. I could have probably, potentially ended up with a completely different business plan just because there are so many awesome approaches to coffee shops.
But I think the biggest thing that I noticed about myself is how much I enjoyed the fast-paced environment. I enjoyed the really early mornings, like getting off work by 11:30 AM some days. I enjoyed the touch-and-go conversations between people in the community, which was by far one of my favourite things.
I loved that we had regulars every day. Baristas have so many names that they end up remembering and nuances about people that they remember, and I was very lucky to experience that.
But there were things that I was like, “Oh, I don't know if I'm ready to do this,” because I didn't know anything.
The pressure behind an espresso machine I didn't know about. Weight per gram and all that type of stuff that you need to know about coffee in order to own a coffee shop. But I think you start to have this list of things that “I can learn this, but this is something that I need to see if I'm capable of and willing to do.”
And I think there's a difference. Like I can learn how many grams need to be in my espresso, right? Like there's all this, all the different math and the recipes and the different technical things I can learn, but I can't learn to enjoy conversation with people in the community, and I can't learn to enjoy a fast-paced environment.
Some people enjoy that and some people just don't, you know?
You don’t roast your own coffee, right? How did you choose what coffee to serve?
I'm a bit obsessed with aesthetics and branding, so I looked at different coffee shops. I think I just sat there and searched different roasters on Instagram and clicked different ones that popped up.
And I came across Ceremony Coffee Roasters. They're based out of Maryland. And I had recognized that I've actually been there before and I was like, “Oh, wow. That was a really good coffee place that we had in Baltimore.”
So I reached out to them. I was like—I have no idea how this works. I'm thinking about opening a coffee shop in the next couple of years. What do I need to know? And they were unbelievably helpful and resourceful.
I'm doing their wholesale partner program, which also gives me the support of—they help me with my P&L sheets, like hypothetical numbers that I had no idea I would even need to really look at.
At the time, the cost of milk, how to price things out, how to design, seasonal flavours, like they do all that with me. They install all the equipment. They come in, they're gonna do milk steaming classes and latte art classes for the employees when we're training.
And they're just a wealth of knowledge that I didn't know I was gonna have or need. So I'm very grateful.
What's the biggest thing you learned throughout the process of opening Kaffé Karma?
There's no to-do list on permits, designing your space. There's no handbook that tells you, okay, waiting on your architectural drawings is gonna take from this time to this time, and nobody can tell you exactly how much anything costs.
Again, I'm very grateful and lucky that I'm in partnership with the person I'm in partnership with because I think I would've lost my mind by now.
Like you think that you have a budget, you don't. You think that you have a timeframe, but you don't. Honestly, when we first signed the lease, I thought we were gonna be open end of September. So it's just, you just don't know. I think the timeframe and the cost of every little detail accumulate, and that has been a really difficult thing to stay patient and calm through.
A Third Place
Why do you call it a third place?
Yeah, that's a great question. So when I was working from home but propped up for four-to-six-hour days in my local coffee shop, I realized that this was no longer just a coffee shop to me. It was my third place, and that's the kind of, that's the slogan that we're using for Kaffé Karma.
Kaffé Karma is your third place. I really wanted to embody what a third place is for people.
There's your home, there's your work, and there's another place where you spend the most time in your life.
And for some people, for most people, I'd say that's their local coffee shop. That's their third place.
Whether it's for meetings, whether it's for creativity time, whether it's bringing your family there or some solo time to read a book if that place is where you spend a lot of your time. I believe that you should get more than just a place to sit down with your coffee.
What I think is. Having more than just coming in for your cup of coffee and a place to sit, it's nice to have other reasons to meet at the comfort zone of your third place. So at Karma, we are having community events on the calendar, and it's teaming up with local creatives.
It's giving people more to do than just going out to a bar, going out to a restaurant, and there's nothing wrong with that, but, at some point or another, you do that so many weekends in a row that you're like, I want to feel creative again. I wanna play, I wanna connect with other people. I want something else to do on Friday night than just go to a bar, or just sit at home or watch a movie, whatever it is.
So we have, we are taking the focus on wellness and mental health obviously was a big focus. During the pandemic as well as after we're still seeing the effects of that. So I've partnered up with some local non-profits and we're doing some, we're going on hikes and before the hike, we're talking about mental health.
And then afterwards we're inviting you back into the store for yoga or, we're doing skincare stuff. We have non-toxic skincare in our retail section and we just have different curated events, like we're doing a mug-making class. There's a clay studio that just opened about 10 miles from us.
They're not necessarily close by, but not everybody is going to be exposed to them in their five-mile radius. So I wanna support them by exposing people to something they can do on their weekends. That's also not in my business, you know? So she's coming in, she's teaching a mug-making workshop for Valentine's Day.
You open next month. How stressed are you?
It's a lot. I have been keeping the mantra that I feel calm and maybe I'm falsely convincing myself, or maybe it really is keeping me calm to believe that. But I just keep walking around saying I feel calm. Like I feel very helped and supported by the community around here, and people are excited. In the back end, it's all chaos.
I'm not working at a different job right now and I keep saying I have no idea how people have another job while opening a coffee shop. Unless you have a whole team of people that you can pay for to do everything else. Like I am the website designer. I am, I feel like I'm HR because I'm making all of our employee training guides.
I'm getting prepared for hiring. I feel like a project manager because I'm managing the cup designs. I'm connecting to the apparel people. I'm getting retail situated. I'm making sure all those things are added and uploaded on our online store. I'm talking to the person that's making our menu hanging sign, and I have to meet them, and then I meet the guy that's doing the floor, like epoxy stuff and it's just—it's a lot.
But again, I think that I don't tap into the chaos part. I don't let it control me and I try and find the positives and all of it, and I know that people think that—find the positive. It sounds so cliche, but I wake up every day and even when my brain is exploding, I still cannot believe this is real life.
Like I wanted this a year ago. I started business planning a year and a half ago. That's it. I thought this was gonna be something I was gonna do in five years, 10 years.
Somebody came up, believed in me, saw my business plan, and knew that it was a hell yes. And I sit down sometimes and I'm like, “Wow, all of this stress and all these things that I don't know how to do.”
Like I've never worked with contractors before. I'm 27 years old. I don't know the difference between drywall and certain other things. So I don't know what people are talking about half the time, you know? But all I see is the space. And I see, and I envision people coming in every day and I envision the workers sometimes being so stressed out and all of us looking at each other after a rush, being like, “What just happened?”
You know, like I can put myself in the future andI get chills. I, every single day, I get chills and I'm so excited.
Amin Yazdani is the CEO and Co-Founder of Craver, a fast-growing mobile platform for Restaurants, helping them gain and retains their loyal customer base.