Open A Café for a Day With Kalle Freese

Opening a cafe can be the most daunting thing a new business owner does. Or it can be the most exciting. Kalle Freese has opened pop-ups and served coffee to thousands at events–learn how he manages to create new spaces quickly!

Opening a café can take ages. Or, if you’re Kalle Freese, it could be over and done in under a day. In the October/November 2016 issue of Barista Magazine, Kalle, owner of Sudden Coffee in San Francisco, talked about participating in Finland’s Restaurant Day, where anyone can open up a restaurant (or café) for one day. As pop-ups and events become more popular, the lessons that Kalle learned from his experiences during Restaurant Day have become more applicable to café owners and aspiring coffee entrepreneurs. Today, Kalle shares some of the tips he’s picked up over the last few years.

Kalle making coffee during Slush, an annual event that brings entrepreneurs from around the world to Helsinki, Finland. Kalle made about 14,000 cups of coffee.
  1. Find customers.

When you open a pop-up or temporary café, you don’t have the luxury of attracting neighborhood regulars over a period of weeks. You can’t wait for people to stumble by because they may never stumble upon your café. So make sure to publicize your project and rely on contacts you already have. “This part does require some planning,” Kalle shares. Be ready to send emails to your friends or make flyers to pass around the neighborhood. If you don’t have a huge network, perhaps you can open up in partnership with a group that does pop-up events or festivals, like Off The Grid in San Francisco or other organizations that bring vendors to different areas around the city.

  1. Be prepared.

This isn’t just a slogan for Boy Scouts. Pop-ups and temporary cafés face a lot of logistical challenges, from where you’ll get power to water restrictions. Think about these challenges ahead of time, and plan accordingly. For example, if you plan on serving espresso, maybe use a machine that can run on propane instead of 220 voltages. And always have extra water on hand and ready—it’s almost always the thing you forget and the thing that you need.

Being outside provides a different set of challenges. Be prepared for power outages have backup systems in place.
  1. Keep it simple.

When you create your menu, you might want to try and please everyone—you are just there for a day or a week, so you want everyone who comes up to your stand or pop-up to have something they want. There’s a thin line between pleasing everyone and overcomplicating things, and as you start to add more elements, like a coffee brewer along with an espresso machine, you add more chances for hiccups and failure.

Kalle chose to just serve espresso drinks at his café because “with espresso you can do so much more,” and limited his service to drinks he could make with espresso. Not only did this make his set-up simple, but it allowed him to serve more, higher-quality drinks to patrons. At the end of service, Kalle averaged about 500 drinks a day—by himself!

Every new pop-up or event presents a new set of challenges.
  1. You don’t need fancy things to make people happy.

Ultimately, your job in a temporary environment is to provide delight. Kalle did this by opening his pop-up café in offbeat locations. “I’d be in places where you wouldn’t expect to get great coffee,” he shares, and through his choice of locations was he able to create meaningful and fun experiences for customers. Because your job isn’t necessarily to make the best drink a patron has ever had, but to create a unique experience they couldn’t have anywhere else. Kalle never had fancy equipment or state-of-the-art tools. In fact, he shares that his first pop-ups “started with a crappy heat exchange machine.” And yet, he was still successful. For a pop-up, you don’t need perfect equipment—just a willingness and curiosity to do something different and fun.

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Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at