Barista Magazine

FEB-MAR 2014

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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DO YOU HAVE CAFÉ-OWNING FANTASIES? Do you ever find yourself behind the espresso machine in the middle of a shift, daydreaming about what you'd do differently if this were your shop? I've imagined up dozens of coffee shops over my 13 years as a barista. Some of them were practical and simple, like the lunch-counter inspired espresso-only joint that serves cinnamon toast in the morning and egg-salad sandwiches for lunch. Others were elaborate and unfeasible, like the hangover-themed café called the Rough Landing, serving yesterday's cold pizza and hair-of-the-dog Americanos. None of these dreams came true, but that doesn't matter, because they were all mine. Every working barista probably harbors the same such daydreams, either inspired by the afterglow of a really energizing shift, or by all the grumbled woulda-couldas after a terrible one: "If this were my shop, I could do things differently," or, "There's no way I would ever serve iced cappuccinos at my café." For some folks (like me), these fantasies remain just that: We might move on to other positions within the coffee industry, finish school with an eye toward a different career, or simply get another job doing something else to make ends meet. Not every barista actually wants to pursue these daydreams, but many do. To find out what it's really like to go from barista to owner, we went straight to several sources to hear about their experiences opening the café of their dreams. The Baristas Jane Srisarakorn, Arrow Café; New Orleans "My parents ran donut shops and little restaurants, that was their livelihood. So maybe always in the back of my mind the idea [of owning my own] kind of lived quietly," says Jane Srisarakorn, a recent transplant to New Orleans whose seven years of experience behind the espresso bar (as well as the cocktail bar and as a server) has inspired her to open her first café. "Living in South Brooklyn [in 2007], I noticed that there were seriously underserved neighborhoods where amazing espresso would be welcomed," Jane remembers. "It seemed that the folks commuting into the city and buying this very specially prepared coffee before they went to work would also want to have this delicious coffee close to where they lived. It got me thinking, 'Where are other underserved areas, where it might be viable to open shop with less money, and be the first to worm into people's hearts?'" She first considered lower-cost communities like Savannah, Ga., but in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's destruction, she was forced to reconsider her life and direction. "I was very close to my goal when Hurricane Sandy hit. I lost my apartment of eight years, furnishings, and a lot of my belongings. It was a tough time," Jane admits. "My friend Alita [Edgar], who had just moved to New Orleans, said, 'Come to New Orleans, I'll help you open the business.' And so I decided to do it." Now, with a space and some early financial assistance from Jane's parents, Arrow Café is coming along nicely; opening day is planned for this spring, in conjunction with an adjacent free-resource room called the Philosopher's Library, which is a project spearheaded by two of Jane's friends. "I have known many businesses who have successfully realized their dreams, even after years of work before opening their doors," says Jane, "so I am optimistic even if there are delays." Max Cudworth and Will Gross, Ox Coffee; Philadelphia Sometimes the student doesn't surpass the teacher, he becomes his business partner: Such is the case with Max Cudworth and Will Gross, who met behind the espresso bar at Joe New York, where Will was a barista trainer and Max one of his trainees. Even after Will left Joe—temporarily for a gig at Ritual Roasters in San Francisco, and then finally to work as a roaster for Stumptown's East Coast operation—he and Max would routinely bounce their respective ideas for future coffee adventures off each other. When they decided to finally team up to open Ox Coffee in Philadelphia this past October, they not only became equals as owners, but also cemented their shared dedication to the craft of coffee. "As a barista, I really took to how much thoughtfulness and care went into each cup of coffee and I loved the relationship between the barista and the customer," Will says. "I became increasingly interested and intrigued by the stories and the process of bringing coffees to life, and knew that starting a shop meant learning as much as I could to have the most well-rounded amount of knowledge possible." With a combined 13 years of multifaceted coffee experience between them, Max and Will knew that their passion and expertise standing behind a counter would go a long way toward helping them build their own. "It's the little things that you notice on the job that make a big difference," says Max. "Like cups! Most cafés put stacks of cups on top of the bar, which means it's inevitable that they'll either get dirty or fall over—or both. We thought it would be nicer to put cups under the bar in horizontal dispensers. We also made the tamping surface lower than the rest of the bar to make life a little easier for the average-height baristas—those kinds of things that only

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