Can a coffee shop survive on selling coffee alone? We find out as we explore the journey of Fenster Cafe and its founder.
BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT
Photos courtesy of Tayisiya Borysenko
When I approached Sashko Iamkovyi, the founder of Fenster Cafe, for an interview about his business venture, it was clear that he is passionate about what he does.
“Coffee and business is an interesting journey and challenge. For me personally, it’s a way of life, because I have nothing else. From the very beginning to now, for nine years, I have been living only with this, and it gives me pleasure,“ said Sashko.
Fenster is actually the German word for “window,“ and that’s exactly what this place is: a small window in the heart of Vienna. What’s more, at Fenster you will only find coffee drinks, and no food is served. How can a business survive on coffee alone? That’s what I wanted to find out!
Behind the Window of Fenster Cafe
Fenster Cafe began in 2011 as a humble coffee shop in Vienna with limited resources, and the business has grown significantly over its history. The idea for Fenster first came to Sashko when he was thinking about how one could learn to make the best coffee in the world. He realized that if someone only made coffee and didn’t offer any other drinks or food, they could perfect their craft more quickly.
He chose a to-go format rather than a traditional café with tables. Sashko says that it makes more sense from a business standpoint. Coffee is an inexpensive and quick drink. If there are tables, people will come in, buy one cup of coffee, and take up the space.
He also noted that this format requires fewer overhead expenses such as furniture, cleaning, additional space, and bathrooms for customers. Since opening his business, Sashko has been able to produce more than 130,000 coffee drinks a year.
So what’s hiding behind that window? “(More) than 1,300 square feet of space,“ Sashko says, “(with) a large production area, which consists of several espresso machines, coffee grinders, and milk foam machines. We have 10 refrigerators just for milk. We also have a large warehouse with a two-to-three-week supply, a training area, office, staff area, workshop, and a production area of the legendary chocolate-covered Fensterccino cones.“
From Specialty Coffee to Ice Cream Cones
In addition to coffee, Sashko was looking for ways to attract customers and create an experience for them. That’s where ice cream came in. Fensterccino, their best-known drink, is a cappuccino served inside a chocolate-covered waffle cone. It was developed to make their coffee shop stand out from the competition. The idea worked, but it came with its own set of challenges.
”I contacted the manufacturers of these cones. It took them a long time to get in touch. And when we finally established communication, it turned out that the price for these cones was quite high. And there was a need to buy a large number of these cones at once. So I continued to look for ways to solve this issue,” Sashko explained.
Sashko eventually found a European manufacturer who could produce the cones he needed at an affordable price. In addition, Sashko was able to determine the size of the batch himself. Unfortunately, during delivery, many of the cones cracked and became unusable.
“We experimented for a long time with both the packaging and the recipe until we finally learned how to ship them without any damage,” said Sashko. ”But then, the manufacturer went bankrupt. We were left without cones, and the demand for them was already incredibly high. So we had to find other manufacturers in different places until, eventually, we started producing them ourselves.”
Today, Fensterccino is their top seller with more than 28,000 sold last year alone—something Sashko is proud of.
What Lies Ahead: Expanding Services, Franchising, and More
The success of Fenster Cafe is owed in part to the quality of its product. Sashko was keen to ensure that they only sell specialty coffee. They grind and brew on the most state-of-the-art, technologically advanced equipment.
However, it is not just the product that has driven Fenster Cafe’s success. Sashko has put much effort into scaling his business. He has expanded services to include online ordering and delivery systems, payment integrations, and other modules, as well as HR software developed in-house. Fenster also has a new product line of freshly ground and portioned coffee packaged in filters and sticks.
The idea is to introduce Fenster Cafe to new markets, such as the United States, where Sashko is currently based in search of franchise partners. At the helm of this successful venture is a fantastic team composed of skilled personnel who are reliable and passionate about their work.
“I am proud of everyone. We have very cool people. They are qualified and passionate about what they do. They are super reliable, and I can safely give them tasks and not worry that everything will be done on time and with high quality,” he says. Sashko’s journey has certainly been inspiring for other entrepreneurs looking to launch a business venture, proving that it is possible to build something great from scratch with limited resources.
From small beginnings, Fenster Cafe has grown into an impressive enterprise with a bright future ahead of them. As Sashko puts it, “It doesn’t have to be coffee or business, but whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it. That’s the key to success.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine, and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.