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How to Start a Coffee Shop Without a Real Shop

Updated: Aug 18

Covid has turn the world upside down. Coffee shops and small businesses are closing at a rapid rate. Indoor spaces are rendered unusable. Starting a coffee shop now seems like an insane idea. But a coffee kiosk or a coffee cart is an affordable way to get started, and could become a trend post-covid.


A traditional coffee shop might cost $25,000 to $300,000 to start. (We suggest you read this article on cost to open a coffee shop). Majority of the cost goes into your rent, depending where you setup shop and how fancy your shop is. While people value the experience of meeting people or sipping on their hot cappuccino while working, this is becoming less and less critical. In fact, coffee takeout sales account for majority of coffee shops' revenue that Starbucks is investing takeout-only stores at 400+ locations. With this in mind, starting a takeout-only coffee stand only costs a fraction of low-end $25,000.


Cost of Equipment and Inventory

No matter a coffee stand or a full-blown shop, you'd need at least this checklist to get started.


Espresso Machine: $2,000-$10,000, depending on your model

Drip Coffee Maker: $1,000-$2,000 for a commercial drop coffee maker.

Grinder: $500-$1,000

Fridge: $1,000-$3,000, depending on size and quality

Materials & Inventory: Paper cups, lids, napkins, coffee beans, sugar, milk, etc. can add up quickly. Expect to spend $2,000 to start.


More Sales Channels with Technology

Starbucks has their own mobile app to order coffees for pick-ups. Majority of their sales already come from mobile orders. But what about independent coffee shop owners? Square offers free POS for any small business, especially small coffee stands without much counter space, to get started quickly. But instead of just getting sales from walk-up customers, how do you enable online orders & pick-ups like Starbucks?


Square's online store: Sign up free. It requires time to setup the online store (5-10 hours). Customers will have to type in a website URL or scan a QR code to start an order.

Other online stores: Subscription fee varies from $20-$120/month. Also requires time to setup (20-80 hours). Customers can go to your website or download your app to order.

Custom app (like Starbucks): 40-100 hours to define what to build. $25,000-$250,000+ to build and maintain. You do get a custom-branded app though!

Textbot: Sign up free, and setup only takes 15 minutes. Customers don't need to download an app to start an order. They simply order via text messages like texting a barista. It works great with coffee shops and food trucks with small menu.


How Customers Buy and Consume Coffee Defines the Future

Whatever business you start, even a coffee shop, you inevitably have to think about how your customers would like to buy and use your products. If they prefer sitting in, then they probably don't mind waiting and you'll need to account space for that. If they prefer to just pick up their drinks, then investing in technology to skip the line & wait would be your priority. With that said, a great cup of coffee made with love will still be your main attraction, so don't lose sight of why you wanted to start a coffee shop in the first place!

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Made in Mountain View, CA

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