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Green Business Ideas: Sustainable Coffee House

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coffee houseThe recent popularity of coffee houses, as being not just another place to grab a cup of joe, but also functioning as a meeting place, a working space, and a community hub, can be a big element in your favor if you’re leaning toward this green business idea. A coffee house can be as fancy or as simple as you like, and could include a bakery or lunch options, or function as a coffee roaster that can set your coffee house apart from most of the other coffee shops.

1. What is a sustainable coffee house?

A community space restaurant that serves sustainable coffee, tea, and light fare, and focuses on the enjoyment of a dining experience by not rushing clients through.  Sustainable coffee is typically organic, shade-grown, and Fair Trade certified (in industry lingo, it’s known as “Triple Certified”).  It helps provide an economic incentive for rainforest preservation, as well as valuable jobs for third-world workers, so serving triple certified coffee has benefits well beyond the borders of your local, independent coffee house.  It also tastes much better than commodity coffee.  Margins can be substantial, even on the higher priced sustainable coffees.

Many customers use coffee houses as their “3rd space” (aside from work and home), in which to hang out, relax, socialize, pursue a hobby, or do freelance work aside from their regular job.  This does not mean you can’t serve regular meals.  Many coffee houses make a smooth transition during breakfast and lunch hours by politely asking that people working on wi-fi and laptops make room during busy times for people who are eating.

What about competition from Starbucks, though? Won’t that kill your coffee house business before you get going?  In a popular article in, the authors argue that Starbucks can actually help independent coffee houses thrive.  With independent coffee houses growing from 9,800 in 2000 to 14,000 in 2005 (roughly correlating with the time of Starbucks fastest expansion), and with a failure rate for first year coffee houses at 10%, this business provides a great startup opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs.

2. What required knowledge or skills are necessary?

There are no formal educational or training requirements for operating a coffee house.  In general, food service experience would be very helpful in terms of organizing ingredients, getting processes in place to make the kitchen area operate smoothly, and for customer service.  Knowing the ins and outs of the coffee trade can make a big difference in the quality of the java served at your coffee house, as can learning all you can about Fair Trade, Shade Grown, and organically grown coffee. The work is strenuous and requires that the worker be able to be on their feet for extended periods of time, a good ‘people person’, and be able to lift up to 50 pounds.

3. How much money is required to start?

$$-$$$   (on a scale of $ to $$$$$)

4. What is the income potential?

$$-$$$   (on a scale of $ to $$$$$)

5. What is the best location for a sustainable coffee house?

Urban (best), semi-urban (very good), suburbs (good), rural (poor).

6.  Three best questions to ask yourself to find out if this business is right for you (if you can answer yes to all three, this business might be for you):

  • Do you enjoy a fast-paced (uh, caffeinated?) work environment?
  • Do you enjoy serving people?
  • Do you enjoy the environment of a coffee house?  In other words, do you enjoy hanging out at other coffee houses?
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