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Stillwater Coffee Co. / Business 101  / Keep It Simple

Keep It Simple

Keep it simple

While it’s easy to want to ‘do it all’ as so many of our customers want their favorite coffeehouse to be- open 24-7 and serve wonderful meals and pastries, you have to recognize your limitations; staff, space, knowledge, or your time commitment, all need to be part of your plan. If there’s anything I’ve learned from owning and running three coffeehouses over the last 18 years is this -keep it simple.

Let me focus on the staffing and space issue for now.  While there is the temptation to create a coffeehouse that serves a full breakfast, lunch /dinner menu, the two are at odds with each other.  Unless of course, you have deep pockets and plan to employ a full kitchen staff besides your baristas, which is fine if you do, and at this point you can stop reading.  But if you are like most start-up coffeehouses, who plan a smaller cafe and hope to run it by yourself with very few employees, please heed this advice and continue reading. 

You will  need a full restaurant sized kitchen, as logistically speaking, a true coffeehouse staff needs room to function well, especially when you’re in the midst of the morning rush.  Preferably, these two spaces should not overlap for somewhat obvious reasons.  There is nothing worse than the aroma of sautéed onions when you walk into a coffeehouse at 9:00am.  Your customers expect the sublime coffee aroma that brings a smile to their face as they walk through the door and instead their senses are assaulted with aromas of onions and garlic, and other fabulous ‘lunch aromas’ but not what they expect when entering their favorite coffeehouse in the morning.

You know, the needs of the lunch crowd run from about 11:00-2:00 and you’ll generally need to start prepping hours before that if expect to be ready to serve lunch then.  Obviously, your baristas can’t focus on making quality espresso drinks while worrying about sautéing onions for the daily sandwich special or the pot of chili boiling away while focusing on steaming milk.  Thus, the need for a dedicated kitchen staff.

As I said, quality espresso and coffee drinks take time and attention, as do quality meals- you can do one or the other well, but without the full kitchen staff, you need to choose whether you want to be a coffeehouse that serves incredible coffees and pastries  or a restaurant that serves incredible food and passable coffee drinks.  From my experience, I’ve yet to enjoy both from the same place.  I can’t tell you the number of incredible meals that were almost forgotten as the bitter espresso and scalded milk cappuccino I thought would be the perfect finish was so awful I didn’t want to return for another meal.  If you can’t do it well, just don’t do it!

Stillwater Coffee Co. chose to be a coffeehouse that serves incredible coffees and pastries.  We love our coffee and espresso and it comes through in every drink we make.  We decided to focus our limited food options on items that go well with coffee; pastries, toast, simple to prepare items with little preparation time but big flavors.  A light lunch menu that encompasses things we already have in place, the base being our artisanal breads for toast, fresh fruits, jams and herbs we use in our smoothies.  Simple ingredients, simple prep, simply delicious!  Keep it simple -dw

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