An Open Letter to Mom-and-Pop Coffee Shops


I love you guys. I want you to succeed. I want you to outlast Starbucks.

But lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of my neighborhood coffee shops close down. They’re falling like dominoes. And it’s not because they can’t compete against Starbucks. It’s that they don’t try making amazing coffee and espresso drinks.

Here is how you become more popular than the Starbucks down the street:

1. Source GREAT Coffee And Espresso Beans

This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. I guess it depends on where your shop is. It might be worth traveling to some of the well-known, independently owned shops and ask where they source their beans.

I would definitely try to make it to the Funnel Mill in Santa Monica, California. The people that run this shop are so into coffee and tea, that you can see the intensity in their facial expressions. These people are SO serious about coffee and tea I think it makes them unhappy. They are always striving for perfection. It’s like you’re watching their trials and tribulations of their personal coffee quest unfold before you as you’re in the shop.

funnel mill review santa monica

Needless to say, approaching the owners can be a bit awkward – but if you catch them on a good day, you might learn insanely valuable things about the coffee game.

But back to the beans. Great beans is where it starts. If you’re brewing crap beans, everything else falls apart. The coffee and espresso is all bitter, you don’t stand out from anyone else, you don’t have pride in your establishment – you’re creating a culture of loserdom. Don’t go there.

Oh! If you can make it to Whole Foods, and buy their espresso beans – not the pre-ground beans, but the beans you shovel out of the wooden barrels – those are winner! Of all the beans I’ve tried: Starbucks, Coffee Bean, local shops, Trader Joes – Whole Foods was hands down the best for home espresso brewing. With that said, grab a pound and compare it to your own source. If your source is better, then you’re in good shape.

2. Don’t Let Beans Get Old

Old beans get bitter. They lose their oils. It’s imperative that you keep your supply fresh and just at the right weekly amount where you’re not amassing beans.

I suppose you can vacuum seal beans to keep them fresh. It’s the air that’s going to change the flavor of the beans. If you can roast your own beans, you might even be in better shape. That way you can control the bean age to jive with your own schedule.

3. Don’t Pre-Grind Beans

If beans are ground and left touching air for too long, they get sour and bitter. This fact – I actually have “data” on. I was making espresso at home, and I noticed that if I waited more than 15 minutes to brew my shot after the beans were ground, the drink became bitter.

4. Be Vigilant About Cleaning Your Equipment

Old bean dust can ruin a drink. Train your employees to clean your espresso and brewing equipment twice a day if possible. Especially the grinding apparatuses. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s a direct source of contamination.

5. Be Consistent in Everything You Do

This applies to any business. McDonald’s is where it is because of consistency. I know their food is nothing to write home about, but the point is – their success is directly attributed to process and consistency. Any person can walk into McDonald’s and get trained to perform their function perfectly.

You want iron clad process for:

  • Customer service
  • Beverage and food preparation
  • Cleanliness

Creating a successful business is all about designing your business to operate like a well-oiled machine. If you don’t spend time on business design, you’re destined for failure.


Read the E-Myth by Michael Gerber. He wrote the book on this principle. It’s a game changing read.

6. Be Known for Something

I don’t drink regular coffee anymore. It gives me stomach issues. That’s why I switched to espresso about five years ago. It changed my life. BUT – I will drink Philz coffee. It doesn’t give me any issues. The way a Philz style drip brew tastes…well…is just out of this world. I’m a loyal fan now.

They also do a mint mojito (it’s a coffee drink) which I haven’t tried – but I keep hearing about. See. That’s the point. People are talking about it. That’s what you want to strive for. It doesn’t have to go international – but at least be the buzz in your town.

About the Author: Sean Traba is the co-founder of Get at him on Twitter @toobbox.

This entry was posted in Rants. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>