Barista Magazine

FEB-MAR 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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"PEOPLE DON'T MEET FOR TEA OR A SMOOTHIE, they meet for coffee," says Colin Harmon, and he should know: He owns some of the best cafés in the world, Dublin's landmark 3fe. Since opening the fi rst 3fe's doors in 2009, Colin and his coffee bar have built a tremendously enthusiastic following that has allowed the brand to expand to several locations and a roasting facility—a level of success that the former investment banker and four-time Irish Baris- ta Champion didn't fully expect when he started selling espresso in the lobby of a nightclub. In addition to running the cafés and roastery, Colin is also the author of a book that should be required reading for anybody who's ever dreamed of opening their own: What I Know about Running Coffee Shops. Judging by the fact that it took less than fi ve months for the fi rst printing of 10,000 copies to sell out, it's clear that the idea of running a coffee shop is becoming more and more appealing to more and more people. "People love coffee shops. They're really great places to be. Coffee is defi nitely that social catalyst," Colin says. "I love going to coffee shops, I spend so much time in coffee shops." That, of course, is a large part of what drew Colin to the job in the fi rst place—the allure of spending all day in a coffee shop. He's quick to add a very practical note of reality to that notion, however: "Peo- ple often get into coffee because it's their dream, but your dreams don't often include balance sheets and suppliers." Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, another investment bank- er was having similar dreams, though the idea to open Harlem Coffee Company (HCC) didn't exactly come to owner and CEO Mark O. Thompson in a fl ash: He fi rst fancied the idea of opening a restaurant in his home neighborhood of New York City instead, and said so to his mentor, John Meadow, a fellow graduate from Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the founder of La Dolce Vita hospitality group. "I was working in fi nance at the time," Mark says, "and told him I was interested in opening a restaurant. He said that if I wanted to do a restaurant, I should start with coffee, because according to him, if I couldn't do coffee, I probably couldn't do a restaurant." Where many small-business dreamers would be deterred, Mark was actually inspired—and forewarned. "Truer words have never been spoken," he says. "He was absolutely correct." He went back to the drawing board and designed a business that combined what he loved about the location he had in mind. "I wanted to create a place that blended the charm and heritage of all that Harlem is known for, with specialty coffee. I view Harlem as an inclu- sive, convivial, and welcoming neighborhood. To me, no product embodies those elements better than coffee." He opened HCC's doors on January 7, 2017—and even with an extensive background in hospitality and fi nance (he has worked in investment banking with Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse), there were still plenty of surprises along the way. "As prepared as you think you may be, there is still a learning curve, and things you didn't anticipate that creep up," he shares. "Coffee isn't high fi nance. You don't sit in front of a Bloomberg terminal all day and answer phones. It's not that neat or pretty. You have to get your hands dirty, every day." "It's defi nitely that lifestyle job, it's very tough," Colin says. "If it doesn't work out, there's always somebody willing to take your place." While neither Mark nor Colin would deter someone from under- taking the life journey of opening a coffee company, they have both learned the hard way that there are plenty of unglamorous parts of the business—it's not all whipped cream and perfectly pulled single-origin espressos. Somebody has to call the accoun- tant, answer the complaint emails from dissatisfi ed customers, hire and fi re staff, fi x the broken dishwasher (and make sure the dishes are being washed in the meantime)—these are the points in the "dream" when an owner might wish she would wake up already…if she's getting any sleep at all, that is. "You have to look at the entity and the operation as a living creature. Things will go wrong, particularly in its infancy. If I could liken it to a newborn baby, for the fi rst year all it's going to do is poop and keep you up at night," Mark says. In an attempt to help new-business owners rest a little easier, here are some tips about the less romantic elements of coffee-com- panyhood—lessons learned the hard way by somebody else, so hopefully you don't have to. Writing a Business Plan "From the start, developing the concept was a challenge in and of itself. How do you capture community in a cup?" Mark asks. "I wanted the concept to be premium and specialty but approachable and inclusive." If that sounds like a contradiction, Mark agrees: He realized right away that if Harlem Coffee Company was going to work, he would have to really sit down and write out every single detail, which is a much more complex process than simply conjuring a café from thin air. For some people, the notion of writing a business plan is about as appealing as fi lling out mountains of fi rst-time paperwork at a doctor's offi ce, but it can be just as informative and insightful for you and your investors and suppliers as it is for your doctors and nurses. By putting down on paper not only the beautiful concept and the visions of happy customers you have in your dream, but also the nitty-gritty details of budget expectations, company poli- cies and procedures, and a three- to fi ve-year projection, you will get and stay on track. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) reminds business-plan procrastinators that a comprehen- sive plan of 20–30 pages "also helps you to step-back and think objectively about the key elements of your business venture and informs your decision-making on a regular basis"—much better than calling friends and family for advice when going gets rough. The SBA provides assistance, templates, and examples for plotting out and executing these early stages, and their business plan prep includes information about things like conducting market analysis and requesting funds. Visit www.sba.gov to fi nd out more about the services and tools the association offers—and hit the "bookmark" button while you're there, because you're going to fi nd yourself there even more often than Facebook. Money, Money, Money "The big thing that I regret from my early years is margins and understanding margins," Colin says. "As soon as you start to talk to people about margins they just glaze over, and they just hope that it's going to be OK. That's defi nitely something you need to get a hold of. And the balance between what you want to sell and 77 www.baristamagazine.com

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