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    January 27, 2013

    In which someone needs to pour me a drink and rub my feet

    Today I am overwhelmed by the coffee shop idea. I think it has something to do with the aisle - AN ENTIRE AISLE - of Torani drink syrups. 

    I want to throw all these thoughts and ideas at you and see what you think. But first I should say that the idea has morphed a little, from a coffee shop with homemade treats, to a bakery that also sells coffee. I suppose this was always the vision, seeing as how both the FPC and I are infinitely more interested in flour, sugar, and butter than we are coffee beans. Also that both of us have worked barista jobs and aren't particularly excited about doing it again. (GOOD PEOPLE TO START A COFFEE SHOP, EH?!) We've had a lot of fun dreaming up a menu - baked goods, snacks, lunchy items, kid-friendly and kid-sized bento boxes even - and the coffee is... well definitely not an AFTERTHOUGHT, but not the focus. I think that's okay. 

    And it's not a cafe. We don't want to do REAL food. We will have some TYPES of real food, and things you could order for your kids' lunch that you could feel virtuous about, but we won't be making to-order sandwiches and that sort of thing. After all, the FPC and I are the sort of people who would eat a croissant followed up by a brownie for lunch. Our working name is Little Cousins Bakery & Playroom. Please, I beg you people to think of something better. 

    So a BAKERY, that sells coffee and encourages you to sit down in our, hopefully, large space full of chairs and tables and couches and things for your kids to do and play with. Which reminds me of the most troubling aspect of this whole thing - I'm not worried about getting customers, but I AM worried about getting enough customers in and out of the store. From what I've read, coffee shops make money by selling lots of coffee. (You can tell I did not go to business school.) And that means getting people in and out. I can see this being the sort of place where there isn't really a quick turnaround. This is why I think it has to be a pretty large space, to accommodate a lot of people who might want to stay on a rainy day. A large space costs more. So. Blargh. 

    Other worries: 

    • Even if we wipe things down and disinfect the toys ten times a day, is that enough to kill germs/calm the parents?
    • Is it prohibitvely expensive to lease a commercial space with a kitchen? Is this why hardly any of the coffee shops I go to sell their own treats?
    • What kind of liability insurance will this require?
    • What happens if you take out a small business loan and then, ah, can't pay it back? *bats eyelashes*

    Honestly, my biggest personal thing to figure out is if I have the TIME. I'm not a total idiot. I know that people who open small businesses are working crazy hours to get it off the ground. Even if they have employees, no one works harder than they do. And I'm also aware that as hard as I think I'll have to work, the truth is that I'll probably have to work twice THAT hard. 

    But! In our house, Phillip's career is the priority and because I do what I do, he's able to move up and ahead and do what he needs to do. It would be a big sacrifice for our family, either in terms of time or money or Phillip's commitment to HIS work - likely all three - if I were to devote all my free time and energy (and more than what I currently have free, of course) to opening a bakery with my sister. I'm not sure I want to go there. This isn't my long time pursue-at-all-costs dream. Also, Phillip works a job that pays actual money, whereas I am good at thinking of things to do that will COST us money. 

    I can't really figure that out, though, unless I figure out what it will take to open a bakery. Maybe we can hire enough help so that we can still be parents too. Which is why the FPC and I went out to price things today. We meant to price out equipment and ingredients, but the restaurant store isn't open on Sundays. So we went to the Cash 'n Carry instead and maybe it was a good thing that we only did that because DUDE. OVERWHELMED. 

    We went to the Cash 'n Carry because the FPC's former boss would go there when that bakery was low on supplies. It was... well you go in sort of expecting everything to be labeled ACME, but to my surprise there were actually a lot of name brand items, as well as things I had absolutely never seen before. Pouches of bavarian creme filling? That are not refrigerated? Powdered lactose-free soft-serve mix. Enormous bags of specialty flour. Vats of frying oil. Buckets of baking powder. And an aisle of Torani drink syrups, every imaginable flavor, four dollars and eight cents each. 

    The FPC went down each aisle with her notebook and pen, writing down useful information, while I went around taking photos with Instagram and exclaiming over sizes and amounts and OMG that is a CRAP TON of soy sauce! (Not useful.) 

    In the car on the way home we talked about how the FPC would translate her notes into "how much stuff we need and how much it will cost" and it just sounds like... well, for one thing, a lot of math. But everything is an estimation and we've never done this before and I am OVERWHELMED. I keep telling myself that OTHER people open coffee shops and bakeries and they are not ALL smarter than me, but yeah, right now I'm feeling fairly uneducated. 

    At least when we go to price out equipment those will be one-time costs and not this, you know, five bags of flour per week or whatever it is that we'll need. 

    Since I've been talking about this with real life friends, I've found out that one kid-friendly coffee shop is out of business and one is now charging for playtime. We are not interested in either of those things. I'm worried that this is a great but not terribly profitable idea. 

    I'm just overwhelmed. I don't quite know what to do next. I feel like I have to figure out all the stuff that scares me, like the capital and the accounting and insurance and rents and omg buying and learning to use a CASH REGISTER. I can't think about anything FUN because those things are FUN and if all I do is think about the FUN parts I'll never get anywhere. I have to concentrate on how HARD it will be and how TIRING and STRESSFUL and EXPENSIVE and RISKY and then, I suppose, if I'm STILL interested, then I guess I really AM interested. Or I have what it takes. Or I could try and SEE if I have what it takes. 

    I KNOW. I KNOW. I KNOW. 

    Okay, so my next steps are: 

    1. Invite some friends to dinner, one of whom is writing a business plan to open his own sports bar, for reals. He's currently the assistant manager at an Actual Restaurant and Isn't A Dummy. Pick his brain. 

    2. Read. Google. Make lists. 

    3. Start putting a business plan together, piece by piece, investigating as we go. Phillip is excited about this part, thank God.

    4. Talk to the owner of one of the kid-friendly coffee shops I know about. According to the FPC, people in the food business LOVE to talk about being in the food business and will most likely LOVE being The Expert and telling us all about their experience. 

    I think that's what I need/want most. To talk to someone who's done it before. Even if it's not quite exactly the same. Can you be a mom of young children and pull this off? Can you be successful? Can it be simple or do you have to add in birthday parties and classes and other stuff to make money? Do you have to have EVERY flavor of Torani syrup?

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    Comments

    I think this is so exciting. Kep writing about it because I love hearing all this.

    With order if there is one of business incubator things with a commercial kitchen for rent for certain hours. That way FPC could make whatever and you guys would have the hassle of buying all the equipment up front.

    We go to a play place and an awesome pizza place with a play room. I think wiping everything down several times a day is fine. Both place have a basket nor toys that have been mouthed and need to be sanitized so you can get to that whenever.

    Also look around for people offering fre classes, around here the Spanish and Chinese toddler language classes are always looking for new students so they will do free classes a couple times a month at various paces to drum up busines, sign language too. That sort of stuff is all ways has big appeal.

    I wouldn't offer a million fancy baked good either, you don't want to overextend yourself right off the bat. Although it would be a stellar opportunity for FPC to get custom birthday cake orders.

    Our play place actually offers snacks for sale but mostly stuff she gets a Costco, applesauce pouches, organic cheese sticks, organic milk boxes, juices. Keep that in mind fr some of this stuff as well.

    Good luck! This sounds so awesome.

    Maggie, I think you are awesome. I had an idea for a combination business that would include a playplace and appeal to moms, but thinking of the amount of work it would take scared me off the idea. I'm kind of lazy by nature (see: working part-time and still can't keep house immaculate).

    One thing I would definitely consider in any place you look at though for the bakery/playroom is a private place in the back for YOUR kids to hang out, because I imagine they will be there with you sometimes and it will be nice for them to have a little space of their own to hang out in with their own stuff vs. always being out front with customers. Just my two cents...

    And I meant to comment on your other post about the blog...please don't stop blogging. I like that your blog covers various aspects of your life. It's your space-it can be about whatever you want. Your blog is what inspired me to blog, as random and infrequent as I blog LOL, but reading your posts on Parenting and here are what inspired me to start my blog. So thank you for that, and please keep blogging. :)

    I love this idea! My best friend, a Trader Joe's manager with lots of actual retail experience, and I have tossed something like this around for years. I would totally go to your store if I lived close :)

    Some thoughts:
    -Make sure to serve some savory items, and make sure some stuff has protein in it. I love to take my kids out for a snack but hate it when everything is sugar only (I actually hate that when it's only me); I am all about sugar and butter, don't get me wrong, but you need something savory to balance it out.
    -Our most successful local bakery like this has a covered patio with those ceiling mounted propane heaters, and a SANDBOX with toys. This is what makes me drive all the way across town to go there. I'm in Oregon, so our weather is similar, and it is so nice to go sit by that sandbox and let my kids play with other kids for an hour while I read or visit and drink coffee and stay warm. Do this!
    -Do a few gluten free things. I know, it's a super annoying trend :) BUT my husband can't have gluten and it is so nice that the above place always has a few GF options.
    -If you offer good play space and quality treats-not fancy, but really good-you'll be way up on most local coffee shops, in which the treats are crummy.
    -bread to go is awesome, if FPC has that in her to do loaves of bread plus treats.

    I love reading all your thoughts and ideas about this. I agree with a lot of the commenters' ideas too. I think the bread to go would be fantastic and also figure out a way to have birthday parties. People I know that have small business like this make a significant amount of money with parties. Also, have little cupcake decorating sessions and charge a small fee. Home school parents are always looking for interesting things to do and might love a bread baking session. Keep brainstorming!

    If you want people moving in and out, perhaps that's where you schedule "story hour" type events, that give people a clearly defined window of when they should be there and leave...even better if you have a couple sessions back-to-back and people feel like they should leave to make room for the next crew! I don't know how much it would cost to book the entertainment, but it's a thought. I also think parents schedule things much better than average folks, so it'll be naptime or lunchtime or whatever at some point and they'll be on their way out. Everyone's got a different schedule, too, so that's good. I wish I had a better name suggestion, but I'd at least suggest going with a name that sounds more cafe and less daycare...if that makes sense. More hipster mama or something. Maybe use the term "play-cafe" or something, you know? I think it's a really fun idea, but I can't imagine taking it on. I guess that's what passion does to a person :)

    I have not said so yet (But look! I AM COMMENTING!) but I think this is a wonderful idea and I hope you DO IT! I could never do it but if anyone could? It's YOU Maggie. It's just awesome. I only wish I lived in Seattle.

    I really like the idea of having a story time, or craft time, or something to draw people in, and the move them on their way. This is SO the kind of place that I would go to, since I get hives during the time it takes for me to stand in Starbucks waiting for my drink and hope my kid isn't annoying everyone. I had to take like a year hiatus from Starbucks, because I just couldn't keep Benjamin still enough to not knock things over for the length of time it took them to make a latte, true story.

    I really want you to open this coffee shop in my little town. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. I will come every day!

    Does your area offer any resources for entrepreneurs that can help? My town does and they offer all kinds of support. Also, contact local colleges. You might find some free/cheap employees by hiring interns and co-op students.

    A great resource for helping new businesses is called SCORE. It is made up of retired business owners. I believe they will try to match you with someone in the same industry. Also be vary wary of SBA loans, they almost always require you to put your house up as collateral.

    I know nothing about business or opening a coffee shop. Nothing. Now that we have that out of the way...
    It almost sounds like it might make sense to do like a partnership with a coffee shop... like they do the coffee, you guys do the snacks and kid friendly stuff? Or, alternately... we went to this mega church in VA that had a coffee shop that was open more than just Sunday mornings. It was intended to be a place that people could use for Bible studies or mommy groups or whatever. I wonder if there are any churches local to you that would be interested in having such a thing? And perhaps they could like rent you a space or even pay you to set it up in their space...

    Just a thought, from a person who knows nothing about opening a coffee shop. :)

    There a place in Lynwood about to open called playdate cafe. They have Facebook page

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