Can You Make Big Bucks Selling More Than Coffee at Your Café?

We spoke with two partners based in Austin, Texas, to find out.

BY MAI GAN
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of Maufrais

From the editor: In the August + September 2021 issue of Barista Magazine, we discussed the advantages of adding a retail shelf at your café. However, have you also considered adding an entirely separate retail concept completely? We chatted with two Austin-based businesses who sell their products together to learn how this can be a useful (and sometimes challenging) addition to your café.

Would you like a hat with your coffee?

Similar to serving champagne at a bridal wear shop, offering coffee outside a café context has slowly made its way into the retail world. If you live in a metropolitan city such as Austin, Texas, you’ll find coffee shops in some unexpected places—take for example, a hat store.

Building out a café is a little more complex than serving champagne. Between the cost of permits, equipment, rent, and other overhead expenses, is a café inside a retail store worthwhile?

Maufrais is a custom hat and gift shop in Austin with a coffee shop inside.

Maufrais on Retail and Coffee

Maufrais is a retail shop in Austin specializing in custom hat shaping, vintage goods, and housewares. The store is meticulously designed with an air of zen. Its neutral color schemes, jasmine incense, and mid-century furniture urge you to stay and relax, which is why the addition of an equally beautifully designed coffee shop was an obvious choice.

Maufrais opened in March 2019, and as lifelong Austinites, the owners wanted to open a retail concept with a fresh perspective on the Texas tradition of hat wearing. This also included the build-out of a café, which came one year later due to permitting.

They reached out to Little Brother Coffee Company to run their coffee program. The café has a Clima Pro and an EK-43 grinder, as well as an in-counter espresso machine (both of which are top-shelf equipment for a space less than 200 square feet). In Little Brother’s case, Maufrais handled the build-out and equipment because they opened the location with the intention of having a café, regardless of who the operators were. 

Little Brother, a partner of Maufrais, says that opening a café inside a retail concept is not always a cost-effective idea.

Was It Worth It?

When asked why they wanted a café, co-founder of Maufrais Lauren Greenberg says, “We wanted to create a welcoming and warm environment—a place where our patrons want to come and hang out for a while. (The café) provides a sense of community.“

The very trendy and zen Maufrais thus asked Little Brother, which describes itself as “your scrappy, kinda annoying, go-kart ridin’, dirty fingernail havin’, hate to love em and love to hate em younger sibling,“ to run their coffee program.

For Little Brother, this was an amazing opportunity, but not an easy one. Little Brother owner Matthew Bolick says, “Honestly opening a café without just going full renegade isn’t a cost-effective thing. Ever. Margins are brutal, leases are tough to navigate, good or trendy equipment is crazy expensive …”

In addition to this, the permitting in Austin caused a one-year delay, and COVID-19 delayed that process even more. The in-counter espresso machine required an accessory permit, which now requires the café to serve everything in to-go cups (you can only imagine the handmade clay mugs Maufrais probably had in mind).

This is where a strong partnership with the retail shop is important, and since the two owners are friends, the delay and costs were worked out together. Matthew says, “We lucked out and have a wonderful relationship, but that is certainly a toss up in most cases.”

Final Thoughts

Although the retail shop takes on a lot of the initial expenses, it’s the café operator who takes on a lot of the risk. Matthew’s advice: “Opening a cafe of any kind is a ridiculous thing to do no matter what, so do what feels good and protect yourself the best you can.” 

Stay tuned for more on this topic, in which we’ll follow a business that greatly benefited from hosting a coffee program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mai Gan (she/her) is the owner of Adventure Cafe, a coffee subscription service that started out as a membership-based coffee shop located inside of The Yard co-working space on the Lower East Side of New York City. Mai enjoys sharing and writing about coffee entrepreneurship. She is currently exploring coffee shop trends around Europe. Follow her adventures @adventurecafe.

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