This is the full version of the article published by Caffeine Magazine
Co-writing credit to Charlotte Taylor-Page
I’m gonna take a completely unrisky bet that if you’re reading this, you’re either in a coffeeshop right now, or you work in one. Take a look at the people around you, they’ll probably fall into two categories, and I’m not just talking about preferences for facial hair. You average barista is either I’m just barista-ing while studying/travelling/saving money to study and or travel – unfortunately this trend leads to those once a year conversations with aunties back home asking why you’re still ‘just a barista’ despite being in my mid-thirties (just me?) The second category is the barista who knows more than the boss, the barista who is intending to open a coffeeshop of their own one day.
Starting a coffeeshop is one of those things – it looks like anyone can do it (we’ve seen enough of those kind of places in the recent coffee explosion) but without investment from multimillionaire or loopholes around tax-law it also looks like a Sisyphean feat (not easy in skinny jeans). But there is a way, if you go down the DIY route, you can open a coffeeshop on as little as £600. I know, because I did it, and here’s how. Kiss goodbye to your annoying hipster boss. You are now that annoying hipster boss.
You’ll need some start-up money, of course. Short of collectivising with your coworkers and pooling your tips now is the time to beg, borrow and steal. Set up a Kickstarter with free cups of coffee as rewards (in fact, pay all your bills in coffee, this is the freemarket afterall). Sell your soul freelancing. Or, you know, stay in your current job until you have enough savings and accumulated knowhow to do it all yourself (either that or you’ll hate coffee so much you’ll start drinking tea).
You’ll need a space. A place with people, preferably. People are really important for a coffeeshop, almost as important as a pitcher-rinser, definitely more important than that on-demand grinder you’ve been eyeing up. To come under budget your best bet is a market or shared space. A lobby in a set of offices or unit in a trendy studio. Charities with free space are often keen so long as your business is ethical, drug cartels looking for money laundering fronts, if not. If you have transport, pop-up spaces are gaining popularity and it always helps to be flexible and fashionable. Some people are running coffee bars in London in spaces they get in exchange for free coffee and the customers they bring into a shared space. I rented a corner of a vintage market, using the second-hand furniture for tables and seating.
There is a reason why shabby chic is in. It is cheap. But it looks edgy and arty, not so cheap that you’re reluctant to hand over nearly three quid for a flat white, but enough that people assume you care so much about your coffee that you didn’t have time to strip plaster and hide wiring. Stripped plaster and exposed wires are in. Old school lab stools go for £45 a piece online, but if you’re willing to dumpster dive they’re free. Find a school chucking out desks and fittings and you’re onto a winner. Workshop benches make a gorgeous bar and are just the right height for an espresso machine.
Which brings us to machines. In my first shop I got lucky and found a La Pavoni lever for less than £300. This doesn’t happen often, but the seller didn’t know enough about machines or the Internet to haggle. Italian eBay is a goldmine (so much so I’m reluctant to impart knowledge). Otherwise ask your roaster of choice for a machine on lend, most places have something lying around the workshop. Espresso machines aren’t nearly as complicated as they look. If you have the knack (or a friend) then refurbishment of a clunker is the cheapest option. Limescale is easily removed, parts sourced online. Dr Espresso can refurb your not so shiny kit for a price.
With all the hip coffee bars flashing an EK43 the older clicky-clack grinders are flooding auction sites. You’ve got time enough later to buy all the fancy toys and RO systems your coffee-nerd heart desires, once you’re open and making money. If you’re really geeky you can modify your grinder to be G.O.D. by removing the doser, replacing with a funnel and timer switch (check out Home Barista Forum for hardcore hacks). Made by Knock is the place to go for tampers, they’ll even laser your logo onto your handle, also perfect Instagram fodder.
And yes, you’ll need to be on social media, but maybe not as much as you think. Marketing is important, but likes and favourites do not necessarily translate to espresso sold. Better to encourage existing customers to share your shop on social media – perfectly Instagrammable latte art and writing your @name on those witty a-boards you spend all day coming up with. Get yourself a listing on Google Maps, Foursquare, London’s Best Coffee App etc, this is how actual people looking for coffee will find your shop.
The most important thing is open your damn shop. Open first, details later. All cafes take a few months to get into the swing. Don’t laminate your menu just yet. Obviously don’t laminate it at all, find the perfect typewriter font and bulldog clip it to a plank of wood.
Baristas, the coffee revolution is happening, ditch the bosses and open £600 espresso bars everywhere. All you have to lose are the chains.