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You Want to Open a Coffee Shop? Coffee Shop Owner Gives Their Advice

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This is a guest post from an anonymous coffee shop owner in a mid-sized town.

So, you want to open a coffee shop? You dream of mornings in your café and lovely patrons stopping in on their way to work to grab a cup of joe. The warmth of the shop surrounds you and the mutual love for coffee and all things coffee related envelops you and your staff and customers. You relax together, drinking coffee, and later you are all nestled together on an oversized couch talking about life and playing board games.

This is the dream that many people have seen on television or social media, but the reality is much different. When I first dreamed of owning and operating a coffee shop, I did not realize there are so many different things that need to be addressed that take time and a lot of money. Owning a coffee shop is more about profit/loss, location, and rules and not aesthetic and ambiance.

There are so many questions that must be considered when deciding to open a shop that many people don't realize when pondering the idea.

To franchise or not?

The choice to open a franchise coffee shop or a brick-and-mortar shop is a big decision based on how much you want to work and the money that you must invest. A franchise coffee shop can be an ideal solution because they have the coffee beans and roasting equipment, the brand name, the look and feel of the store, and they have loyal customers.

The downside to this is the ability to really make the shop your own and the reputation of the brand and other locations is out of your control. I chose to go the franchise route because the franchise was local and had a large following already. While it was expensive to buy into that name, I believe it is what has helped my shop make it through as long as it has.

Location, location, location

Location is also key to any coffee shop as well as a drive-thru option. Negotiating a lease, utilities, parking spaces are the first steps in deciding whether your dream shop will be a reality. This can be tricky because even the best of locations can turn out to be the worst.

I chose a downtown location right under several apartments which in theory and on paper should have been great, but the downtown area has taken a serious hit after the COVID-19 pandemic and many businesses have closed or moved, proving our location to not be what we had originally planned.

Costly equipment

The equipment would be the next big issue that you must consider. Some of the higher end espresso machines and grinders can eat up your startup costs and must be placed in a business with water filtration systems to work properly. All this equipment requires maintenance and routine cleaning. Finding someone who can work on this specialized equipment has been a problem for me in my somewhat small town and paying for someone from a larger city to come and help is not an option.

Speaking of cleaning, you will need to contact your local health department to discuss the permits and fees that you will need to pay to operate a coffee shop and use milk in a facility. This can also be a costly venture, which was mind boggling to me as someone who just wants to sell coffee that you must jump through so many legal hoops it feels crazy.

It takes a lot of time and energy when deciding to open any business and all the things that must be considered can make the dream of a cozy little coffee shop rather unattainable. You must really love the product that you are selling in order to make the sacrifice needed to start the process.

There were so many hurdles to overcome when I opened my tiny shop downtown that it felt that I was never going to make it a reality. I worked seven days a week for a long time to try and get my shop up and running. Would I do it again, if given the option to go back in time? Of course, but the lessons I have learned along the way have taught me to weigh all of the options before jumping headfirst into the wonderful world of coffee.

About Rebecca Wessell

Rebecca is the co-founder of First Coffee Then. She has written for numerous publications, including ValuePenguin,,, Christian Science Monitor, StartupNation, and NASDAQ. She loves to get into the nitty-gritty of how things work and applies this philosophy to all things coffee. Her favorite coffee beverage is a cappuccino (though La Colombe Oat Milk Draft Lattes are an extremely close second).

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