Opening a Second Location With Catherine Macken of Subrosa Coffee

Opening a second space can sometimes be even more challenging than the first. Catherine Macken shares the lessons she’s learned opening her second branch of Subrosa Coffee in Oakland, Calif.


Photos by Ghostfotographics

If you own a cafe, the idea of opening a second one can seem astronomically overwhelming—you’re basically doubling the size of your business overnight. And remembering the struggle of opening cafe number one can lead you to never wanting to undertake such a huge project on again. “Opening the first shop was focused and fast-paced, in hindsight, hyper speed,” shares Catherine Macken, owner of Subrosa Coffee in Oakland, Calif. Eight years ago, Catherine opened up a tiny little coffee shop in her neighborhood after witnessing the exciting coffee scene popping up in San Francisco. “My love for my neighborhood inspired Subrosa as well as all of the exciting coffees coming out of the Bay, like Ritual, Verve, Ecco, and Four Barrel. And there weren’t many options for getting specialty coffees in the East Bay,” she says.

Catherine Macken in her second location of Subrosa Coffee.

Catherine has been in North Oakland since 2000, and was inspired to open a cafe to create a community hub in a neighborhood that had no communal spaces. “I wanted to build something that was accessible and friendly, and what better way to bring people together than over an excellent cup of coffee?” she shares. “Fortieth Street needed that desperately—it was a no man’s land where neighbors barely had a chance to cross paths.” Now, as she embarks on opening her second cafe, which is just a stone’s throw away from the first, she’s entering an entirely new and different coffee scene with a different perspective and a couple of tricks up her sleeve. She shares some of her tips and tricks with us for opening a second store.

  1. Delegate

When you open your first store, you’re likely the only person making things happen. You’re there everyday, overseeing every detail, maybe even working shifts and doing day-to-day management, making sure things run smoothly. But when you aim to open your second location, you’ll have to delegate some of your responsibilities. “Have cafe management off of your plate when working on a build out,” suggests Catherine, who had her hand in the management of her first store until she started the build out of the second. “Managing a build out is huge. If bringing on a partner or project manager is an option for that, that would have helped keep things sane and functional in my case.”

Catherine delegated managerial tasks, like writing the schedule and ordering, to her staff during the build out of the second location.
  1. Always budget for more

Scrambling and scraping for your first location is certainly difficult, but when you’re aiming for a second location, it’s key to make sure you budget appropriately. Catherine suggests taking what you’ve budgeted and adding 30 percent. “Delays and added expenses create a strain on your first location,” she says, leading you to ‘borrow’ or rely on your first store to make enough money to support the second. Opening a second location is stressful enough, and you do not want to add to the stress by relying on your first store to bail you out.

When building your first cafe, you have to sacrifice and take shortcuts. Catherine advises caution in planning for store number two to avoid overburdening your first location.
  1. The cheaper route can sometimes be more expensive.

When you open your first store, you have to take shortcuts. Maybe you found the wood that eventually became your counter on the street, or had a friend paint all your signs and menu boards. By this point, you have probably seen some of the cracks from going a cheaper route. Now, you have the tools and knowledge to know better. “I’m a sucker for free—salvage tile, for example—or friends cutting deals on construction. I’ve learned this all comes with a price, usually in the form of complications and delays, and in the end it might not actually equate to savings,” Catherine shares. Maybe you had no choice with the first location, but in the second, try to stay on track. “Especially with a second location, avoid the deals,” she says.

It’s easy to want to try something new or create new systems, but remember why people flock to your store to begin with—if you’ve created a strong brand, stick to it.
  1. Stay true to your brand and vision.

When you open a second location, you might begin to question the choices you made, or want to try something new. But remember why you’ve been successful in the first place—people like what you’re doing. “Since your first location is successful and well loved, no need to reinvent the wheel,” Catherine notes. Stick to your brand and stay true to what brought customers and the community into your space in the first place.

Subrosa number two is officially open and will be having a grand opening party on August 13 to celebrate with staff and the community!

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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