What It Takes to Open a Coffee Shop (Ep. 114)

Dale SchotteThe best coffee I’ve ever had came from a place you might not expect.

Since I travel quite a bit and can do most of my work from anywhere (both a blessing and a curse),  I’ve been to coffee shops in New York City, San Francisco, Portland, San Diego, Austin, Denver, Tokyo, and more.

As indicative of an addiction as it may be, my first thought upon waking up in a new city is usually,

“What’s the best coffee shop around here?”

So, while I wouldn’t say that I’m a coffee connoisseur per se, I’ve had a chance to try a pretty wide variety of coffee from all over the country (and in Japan).

Where’s the best coffee, then? New York City? Portland?

Actually, in my humble opinion, it’s in St. Louis, MO, at a place called Park Avenue Coffee.

Anna and I drove down to St. Louis back in May to visit City Museum (now one of my favorite places ever), and while we where there we needed to find a place to get our daily reading done. Park Avenue happened to be on our way from our parking spot to the museum, so we stopped in and I ordered what turned out to be the best latte I’ve ever had.

A couple weeks later, I randomly remembered something one of my college friends had told me when we were both still students:

“I really want to open my own coffee shop someday after graduating.”

That got me thinking… what does it take to open a coffee shop? 

It’s very different from the kind of business I run; whereas I work almost entirely online, have very little overhead, and make money through advertising and speaking, a coffee shop has to sell products (edible ones at that), pay for a building and employees, and deals with all the challenges that come with a brick-and-mortar business.

I decided the best person to ask would be the one who owned the shop that gave me that amazing latte. Why not learn from the best?

So I did what journalists do best – find people’s email addresses – and asked the owner to talk with me. On today’s episode, I’ll be talking with Dale Schotte, who owns Park Avenue Coffee in St. Louis.

I was particularly excited to talk with Dale because he’s been through many different stages in his business. Back in 2006, Park Avenue Coffee opened with just one shop. Today, however, Dale helms a burgeoning business that includes:

  • 4 coffee shops
  • 1 dedicated roasting facility
  • 1 bakery

As a result, Dale was able to tell me what it was like to start out in the coffee business – but also what it’s like to grow, manage a team of employees, and deal with increasing complexity.

In fact, this conversation holds lessons that you can learn from no matter what business you want to go into. Dale’s principles, such as his “Customers, then employees, then the bottom line,” priority list, are useful even if you never plan on starting your own business.

I went into this conversation curious about coffee shops, but came out learning a whole lot more. Hopefully you will as well.

Things mentioned in this episode:

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What It Takes to Open a Coffee Shop

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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