Friday, January 26, 2007

How did we get here? Mar/Apr '05

So we start the official location search. We spread a wide net, trying to figure out which neighborhoods make the most sense for us. We've got seemingly millions of criteria for the right location... principles and guidelines we've gleaned from all these information sources: rent should be less than 8-10% of sales, a .5%-1% traffic count capture rate is a good calculation start, space should be on the commute side, easy parking and easy in/out accesss is super important, visiblity is a big deal, it's worth it to pay more for a location with a higher volume potential, don't get a spcae that's too big (or too small), etc, etc. Then, we have our own additional criteria.... pedestrian neighborhood, proximity to public transport, demographic fit to appreciate our high-quality offering, independent-minded community, opportunity for outdoor seating, rent range, lease length, terms, etc.

This is a process of scouring the internet, working with our agent, visiting tons of locations, and when they look promising, sitting in the car or in a local establishment counting cars and walkers and where they are and when they are and what direction they're going, what coffee they're getting, etc., making notes, sketches, calculations. Sometimes something will start to look promising, but eventually, nothing stands up to the criteria (in terms of rents, I don't know what kool-aid some of these property owners have been drinking), and we keep looking... driving around, talking to people, searching, searching...

Meanwhile, we start talking with a cafe layout consultant for some advice. We know we want to do most of the design ourselves, but we decide that it will be helpful to have someone who can help us understand the process and collaborate with us when we're ready. We also debate whether we should design the brand identity on our own or look for a collaborator. After searching the portfolios on the AIGA website, we contact a talented young graphic designer and begin a conversation about working together on the project.

We also meet with a lawyer and discuss our options in terms of business organization types. We move ahead as an LLC, and register the business and do all that legal stuff. We now have to file Sales tax ($0.00) and soft drink tax ($0.00) forms every single month (despite not even being actually open yet).

Miguel is busy with client work (including a couple trips to Europe), so I head to Charlotte, NC, on my own at the beginning of April for the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America)'s annual conference. I take more advanced classes on cupping and barista skills.

The US Barista Competition is being held on the show floor (pic of Jay Caragay competing to the tune of Miami Sound machine at left), so it's easy to stop over to watch (and be impressed) in between rounds of walking the show floor. It's a major trade-show with a lot of people there, including a lot of folks I'm used to seeing on the different coffee forums. Outside of contact with vendors though, I suppose I'm a bit shy and mostly keep to myself. For years I've been a part of the design community and am pretty comfortable in that context, so it's interesting to be jumping in fresh to what is, in effect, a "new" community. While it's fairly "easy" to join such a new community online, this experience is sort of a reminder that, in person, well, it's not quite the same! In any case, it's a productive couple of days and I head back to Chicago just in time for a slew of varyingly relevant local trade shows.

Within the next two weeks, I head to the Fancy Food Show (delicious samples!), the Retail Interiors Expo ("um, no, we're just ONE store right now"), and then the NRA show (not that NRA, the the National Restaurant Association). It's a huge show... on day two, Miguel comes along and, among other things (tasting, tasting...), we have a "free design consultation" with some architects from the firm that designed Tank Sushi in Lincoln Square (which we love, both for its sushi and its design). Most valuably, they recommend the general contractor (GC) of that job, who's also built other coolio stuff in the city (and whom we eventually end up hiring!).

Next up, "Could this be the location for us?"...

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