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As a coffee shop owner you want to create community, boost local coffee culture, and make a fantastic brew. Here’s how to get there.
Coffee houses and cafe culture have come a long way since America’s first coffee house opened in Boston in 1676.
Shaped by the influx of growing immigrant populations in some of America’s largest cities, coffee shops have adapted to diverse cultures. Just consider the vibrant caffeine scene in New York’s Little Italy. Or Seattle’s counterculture movement.
To give you some new concepts to brew over, we’ve included real-life restaurant ideas for coffee shops that keep customers coming back for more.
Coffee Shop Owners Share Ideas That Inspired Them
Read what inspired fellow business owners to get started, from concept to implementation:
“The concept of a drive-through became a huge thing (during Covid). A lot of businesses shut down and went strictly drive-through. It’s fast, efficient, and people feel safer.” Kharis, Nick, Brittany, and Fred Corpening, owners of Brevity Coffee Co. in San Antonio, Texas.
“With our Italian heritage, three things reign supreme: family, love, and sharing passion and energy while lingering over a fresh meal with friends. We built our stores to reflect the lively piazzas of our sunny town.” Tony, Ciro, Oriana, and Gennaro, owners of THB Bagelry.
30 Unique Coffee Shop Ideas
Now that we’ve shared how a few successful owners were inspired to start their java joints, let’s look at some unique coffee shop ideas.
1. Make it a purr-fectly cozy environment
Cat cafes allow customers to connect with furry felines over a latte or mocha, and often double as shelters for pets looking for their fur-ever home. Brooklyn Cat Cafe in New York City is a nonprofit organization serving as a cat adoption center and community space.
2. Or open a dog-friendly cafe
Create a great community space where patrons can bring their doggos, by making your coffee shop dog-friendly. LA’s Muddy Paw Coffee Silverlake has a welcoming back patio, and donates a portion of every coffee sale to local animal shelters.
3. Offer a look behind the beans
More into the beans than the brew? Opening a coffee roastery might be for you! Create a fully-immersive experience by holding tours of your facilities and showcasing your bean roasting process. Deeper Roots Coffee in Cincinnati, Ohio offers four locations with a focus on “relationally-sourced” coffee beans.
4. Take your coffee to the streets
Serve your delicious coffee at festivals, concerts, transportation hubs or financial districts, for weary workers on their lunch breaks.
5. Embrace the grab n’ go
Many people rely on retail chains for their in-and-out coffee services, such as Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme. Offer window walk-up or drive-through options for added convenience.
6. Invest in the whole experience
Many people have incorporated the Danish concept of Hygge into their life, finding comfort and pleasure in simple things. Hygge Coffee Company in Missoula, Montana embodies Hygge by building a sense of sanctuary and community.
7. Use the building as inspiration
Transforming old warehouses or garages into unique community hotspots breathes new life into outdated building spaces. Presta Coffee Roasters in Tucson, Arizona makes the most of exposed steel beams, woodsy paneling, and open windows.
8. Give events a jolt of energy
A coffee catering company compliments your stand-alone coffee shop. The Funky Brewster in Orange County, California, offers drinks handcrafted by their traveling baristas.
9. Serve drive-through brews
Drive-through coffee shops are the ultimate grab n’ go option for customers on the run. Brevity Coffee Company in San Antonio, Texas serves customers directly in their cars, while runners take orders in line and send them to the window for prep and pick-up.
10. Double as a bookstore
A cup of coffee and a good book makes for a cozy combination. The Den Coffeehouse and Wine Bar at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. doubles as a bookstore and cafe, serving up dishes inspired by notable literary titles each month.
11. Create a cozy coworking space
Cater to remote employees and freelancers by promoting your coffee shop as a coworking space. Cowork Cafe in Arlington, Virginia provides patrons with a place to get creative, as well as podcasting resources and of course, coffee!
12. Play some games
Started by two board game enthusiasts, Game Haus Board Game Cafe in Glendale, California compliments their full-service menu of food and coffee with a diverse line-up of board games.
13. Create a modern internet cafe
Swap out board games for online games with an e-cafe. Pair coffee with computers by permitting customers to engage in playtime.
14. Combine art and coffee
Turning your coffee shop into a mini art gallery grants local artists the opportunity to showcase their creations. Red Tree Art Gallery & Coffee Shop also offers rentable space for parties and community events.
15. Research while you sip
Start a library cafe. Patrons buy a cup of coffee and loan out books at the same time. Utilize a library cataloging system like Libib to keep track of your library inventory.
Get in on the $70 billion coffee industry with this guide.
16. Keep up with current events
Give your customers the latest scoop by transforming your coffee shop into a newspaper stand. Offer a variety of local and national news sources for customers looking to stay up to date.
17. Moonlight as a wine bar
Increase your chance of returning customers by serving coffee in the morning and wine in the evening. Remedy House in Buffalo, New York offers patrons a rotating list of roasts, as well as a wine list featuring local and international makers.
18. Go minimalist
Minimalism is about using only what’s absolutely necessary. Think clean white walls, light wooden countertops, and spare artwork. Street Bean Espresso, in Seattle, Washington features natural lighting and comfy chairs.
19. Embrace another culture
Take your customers to Paris, for instance, by offering large outdoor seating areas where patrons can sip their espresso, nibble their croissants, and watch the world go by.
20. Bounce around with a pop-up shop
Enhance the exclusivity of each pop-up shop by offering a limited-time-only menu, showcasing local roasters and treats from area bakers.
21. Feature rotating roasters
A rotating roster of coffee roasters keeps things interesting. Offer coffee flights featuring locally roasted beans.
22. Provide a sensory experience
Enhance your customer’s coffee shop experience by creating a new way to sip and smell. Seattle Blind Cafe in Seattle, Washington is run by legally blind staff, and designed to create positive social change by (literally) keeping patrons in the dark.
23. Host coffee tastings
With a coffee tasting room, you can offer customers a wide variety of brews in smaller quantities. Conundrum Coffee Tasting Room by Toddy in East Loveland, Colorado keeps nine types of cold brew on tap.
24. Pick a pop culture theme
Pay homage to pop culture by transforming your coffee shop into Luke's (Gilmore Girls), Central Perk (Friends), or Monk’s Cafe (Seinfeld). Decorate your shop with memorabilia from the show.
25. Partner with local bakeries
Customers can feel good about purchasing hand-crafted treats made in their local neighborhood, and you can strengthen community bonds.
26. Pair coffee with pastries
Come from a baking background? Transform your coffee shop into a patisserie! Patrons will enjoy your baked in-house goods made with love, from scones and croissants to macarons and cookies.
27. Go international
Open an international coffee shop that features beans and drinks from around the world.
28. Attract movie buffs
Transform your coffee shop into a Harry Potter, Disney, Tim-Burton, Game of Thrones, or Marvel-themed experience. Host movie nights or trivia nights that match the theme.
29. Honor your roots
Coffee houses are known for creating cozy vibes for people to read, study, or just relax. Host open mic nights and poetry readings, or provide rental space for community club meetings.
30. Go green
If your state allows it, consider a cannabis cafe. Featuring a lush outdoor patio, Original Cannabis Cafe in West Hollywood, California was the first cannabis cafe to open in the United States.
Ready to get started?
Now that you’ve decided on your coffee shop idea, consider your next steps. Marketing your business helps boost customer retention while opening you to new partnerships and collaborations. A business plan will lay out clearly defined goals and objectives, and how these should be measured.
Secure funding for your coffee shop by opening a business line of credit, budgeting for equipment financing, and researching small business grants. You’ll also want to purchase a coffee shop point-of-sales system that’s user-friendly for your staff and keeps track of your finances with ease.
For more information, here’s everything you need to know about Toast’s Fully-Integrated Cafe POS System.
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