"How did you open a coffee shop in Seattle?" That question comes up more regularly in my life than "What's the wi-fi password?" The simple answer is that since day one I've been responsible for and hands-on with every single aspect of the business. I work the shop, unclog drains, run social media, deliver cold brew to wholesale accounts, design every window decal and punch card, run payroll, curate art shows, file taxes and do every single chore that I ask of my employees.
While putting the 10 Year decal on the window this afternoon, the irony wasn't lost on me that ten years later I'm still doing all the same chores I took care of in 2009. I think a lot of folks have a vague idea that a successful business is one that multiplies over time while the owner or owners distance themselves from the day-to-day tasks until they wind up behind a desk. There are plusses and minuses, but staying small and staying hands-on is actually a positive when it comes to understanding your business while still making a decent living.
Spending my teens to early twenties heavily involved in DIY punk isn't necessarily helpful or applicable to business (more anti-business than anything) but it also created a desire to make space and goods more accessible to more folks. Capitol Hill is an expensive neighborhood, and for better or worse, Porchlight is always one of the last shops to raise prices despite our own cost increases. In an effort to keep things more accessible and attempt to keep costs down while staying profitable, I am a manager, barista, delivery driver, graphic designer and window washer--and that's a-okay!
A lot of coffee shops these days start up with well over $100,000. They follow traditional business plans, have investors and usually enough funding to last them through months or years of poor sales. When I opened Porchlight, I didn't have any of that. My opening costs were the financial equivalent of a used car, then I worked 70+ hours a week until I could afford to work 60 hours a week--then 50 and so on. Slowly, I upgraded from used makeshift countertops to custom ones, then a better espresso machine and grinders. I actually ran the shop for two years without an ice machine until I could afford to buy one. The 6AM trips carrying 7-11 ice bags were not fun.
That being said, I didn't learn all of these things by myself. I asked a lot of questions of friends, family, Herkimer Coffee (who are the most knowledgable friends/family in the coffee world) and learned when to bow out (see plumbing and electrical work). Another aspect of all this that I frequently bring up to folks is that you should never try to swoop in and capitalize on a neighborhood just cause it's booming. I love Seattle, went to school and worked on Capitol Hill, played music with friends that also lived in the neighborhood and the neighborhood was good to me. When you open a business in the place you call home, the neighborhood wants to support you. I felt that in 2009 when I was getting the hang of it all and I still appreciate it to this day. When a well-financed business comes to cash in on a bustling part of town, neighbors notice. Stick to what you know.
If you scrolled to the bottom to find out the answer to the question, it is as simple as "Do all the work you can, stay hands-on, ask questions and buy some merch from the touring bands." A successful business doesn't have to have multiple locations, silent partners or $100,000 in startup money.