Dream|a|Latte is our adventure of starting a coffee shop. You’ve seen our journey throughout the ups and downs, tracking the excitement and progress. But as we’ve said before, it’s definitely not for everyone. It can easily and often be romanticized through the “reaching your dreams” feels, making scrumptious coffees, all on lovely filters and often through the scope of social media. But there is also the other side of reality that you need to weigh before you start a coffee shop.
Before we even started, I checked out some points on what it takes to start a coffee shop to get a look at what I was getting into, which although broad, I would say are applicable. Then, as we were building out, I wrote a post with a less-romanticed view based on what we were going through in build out. I would say this very much still applies as well, so check it out. Now, we’re six months into SONDER Coffee & Tea, and I’ve adapted and added on some more thoughts to this list that even so hardly touch on the low moments that can pile on as a coffee shop owner.
10 Reasons Not To Start A Coffee Shop
1. It changes your life. It becomes your life. Are you ready for that? In a regular job, you work your hours, then leave work at work. When you own your shop, there are no “off-hours,” or “off-days,” and there is very little work-life balance. You’ll spend days not at the shop working on shop related things, staying up late to make sure nothing is overlooked, constantly thinking and talking about all there is to do. When you’re not physically there, you’re mentally there. If vacations are even physically do-able (no idea how yet), you wonder if you’ll actually relax, or if it’s worth the stress of planning and making up for it. There are some moments where I am tired of thinking and talking about SONDER all the time. Is my whole life our coffee shop right now? Yes… yes it is.
2. It’s highly demanding. The reason it’s your life is because it’s very demanding. There are constant and various pressures and decisions to be made and handled. There is always something: damage control, things to fix, to change, and to improve. You have to handle many moving parts at once: developing your brand, people, product, financials, back end, front end etc. It’s not a passive job to be in because you always need to be improving and can’t be stagnant, otherwise you risk falling behind and eventually losing business. It takes keeping up with the market, making changes, and always improving and pushing yourself to problem-solve and overcome the challenges around you.
3. It’s physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. #2 is not enough. Not only is having a shop demanding, it’s so on at least these three levels. Owning a shop includes standing on your feet, all day everyday, constantly working, covering shifts, cleaning gross things– it gets quite exhausting. On top of the emotional and mental demands (from everything on this list), it’s important to learn how to handle stress well, otherwise it really could take a toll on you. And you don’t want to get sick, because even when your body is begging to get rest, you can’t really afford rest.
4. It’s a life on blast, which means as a coffee shop you’re on the front lines and open to criticism, comments, and people’s opinions. You have to develop tough skin and a soft heart, or it can get really draining and break you down. The price of doing what you want to includes being criticized and misunderstood, but this reality is not an easy one to face. Learning to handle it well is important because you don’t want to get cynical of people either.
5. Money. Lack of and problems because. Need I say more? Finances requires thought and planning, and you may have to start saving up now or plan on taking out a loan. They say it takes at least two years to start being profitable, thus is a major source of worry. You feel it daily as you are thinking about paying bills, employees, fixing broken things, etc. But you don’t want to be forced and pressured into making stressful decisions because of money, so you’ll have to push yourself to constantly think outside the box, negotiate, and strategize so you can thrive.
6. It’s risky business. Although starting a shop is not a reckless risk, but instead a calculated and planned risk, you still have to be willing to go to sleep wondering if you’ll be in business the next year. Your business plan should be feasible enough that the answer should be yes, but the risk of having a shop is that there is still no security. Nothing is certain, and technically anything could go wrong. Something could break, catch on fire, happen with the landlord, but then again… is anything in life stable?
7. Dealing with people. All sorts of people, all the time. You have to be a team player and learn how to connect, inspire and invest into your employees. You [obviously] have to connect with customers all day, some not so nice. You have to deal with all sort of personalities and moods. You have to deal with solicitors and demanding people that always want something out of you and your time. These can be draining. And then, in such a demanding life, you have to make time for friends and family and keeping up relationships that you care about, because neglecting these can add a strain on your life too.
8. Dealing with mistakes. To improve and achieve successes, learning from mistakes is inevitable, but it’s not fun. The whirlwind of damage control, problem solving, and fixing mistakes are very stressful and confusing in the moment. When you have multiple mistakes piling on at once it’s even worse, and it can be hard to stay grounded and think clearly to solve them properly, escalating everything even more.
9. It takes long-term commitment, because this is not a job of instant gratification. When everything is adding up and pressing down on me, I wonder what I committed to. How much more can I take? Yes, there is instant gratification when you see people enjoy your shop, but it’s a long-term road and the rewards are hard earned. You put in hard work and long hours over a long period of time, investing in something a little at a time. This requires endurance and perseverance, especially when you’re not seeing things pay off and things are stressful. You’ll be asking when it will be over very early on, not realizing that you’ve barely even begun.
10. It’s a volatile career. This simple fact tosses your emotional-physical-mental balance around. There is always something changing, something happening that interrupts your rhythm and challenges your security and stress levels. It’s demanding of your time and energy simply because it’s always there. There are moments of extremes, moments you think you’re going crazy. You question your sanity; one day you feel purposeful, the other unfulfilled. This I know, is being a human. But this is magnified.
If it seems like I only share the good moments on Dream|a|Latte, it’s because I physically can’t even in the low moments. There are times when I won’t post for a couple weeks because I simply don’t have the words or energy. And you may say you want to see that side of things, but I’m more like a despaired, emo teenager unknowing how to live life. 🙂 On the other hand, part of the growth is being propelled to hope and overcome these inevitable challenges, to evolve as owners. When all of these problems add up, and everything is going on, it’s hard. I’ve had many breakdowns, many tears shed and existential moments. But you have to come back to the why.
Why do you want to open up a coffee shop? Before you start, take the time to figure out why. You’ve really got to love what you do– people and coffee– to deal with these setbacks. And when the purpose is greater than the pressures, it’s just worth it and you know you’ll figure out a way despite the odds. Now that I’m here, there’s no other choice but to embrace my new life despite the hardships. We pushed through the impossibilities of getting here, so I’m going to enjoy it and live it out and dream on.