Running a café is extremely hard work—most café start-ups, even those with a rock-solid business plan, delicious product, superior brand awareness and all the tenacity in the world—end up failing. Coffee shop owners are constantly looking for ways to stay sustainable—from adding menu items to introducing live music. Partnering with another business is a creative way to share space and save rent. This solution has created some truly interesting “odd couples” in the café world.
Coffee—With A Side of Detergent
One creative new venture is a combination café-and-laundromat in Munich, Germany called Wash & Coffee. The business model smartly attacks at least two irritating aspects of laundromat culture—nothing to do while your clothes are being washed and dried, and the absent customer whose fully dried clothes are still occupying a machine someone else is waiting to use, creating the “extended stay without extended payment” situation all businesses are keen to avoid. Since the outfit sports a full service coffee bar and Wi-Fi, customers are much less tempted to wander, and sales of coffee to patrons brings in extra profits on the side.
A similar operation based in San Francisco, Brainwash Café, enjoys glowing reviews from many different media outlets, and has seen similar success.
Coffee And a Movie
Another hybridization—perhaps less unusual but seemingly also less viable—is Kent McCarty’s Great American Video & Espresso in Milwaukie, Oregon, which has not only survived the rise and fall of the retail video rental business over a 31-year span, but prospered. And owner Kent McCarty says much of his business’ longevity can be traced to his decision to start selling espresso in 1996.
“I knew we’d make money at it,” McCarty says of the small espresso bar he added to his video rental operation. Amazingly, after three years in business, coffee revenues actually exceeded those of video, accounting for 70 percent of the company’s sales at one point. Business first boomed when McCarty made the decision to add drive-through coffee service; eventually, when other video stores began dying out, Great American became a destination on the video rental front. McCarty says neither product outweighs the other, but it’s the combination that’s the key to his success. He’s not alone—Fayes Video & Espresso Bar in San Francisco is trying the same tack, and enjoying the same result.
Other, more unusual “café combinations” are starting to pop up around the globe: Calico Cat Café in the Kabuki-cho district of Shinjuku, Tokyo, where more than fifty cats—each well-groomed and cared for—watch you drink your espresso; Heritage Bikes in Chicago, which combines locally-made cycles with artisanal roasted coffee; Heavenly Dental Café in the Philippines, which surely takes some of the negative connotations of a routine cleaning out of your next trip to the dentist; and record store/café combo Black Gold in New York.
Conclusion: Coffee Combinations a Winning Concept
What seems clear is that café owners are looking to push the envelope and increase their customer base by any means necessary—the more creative, the better. Inc. magazine calls the concept of combining cafés with other companies “business genius,” adding that these cafés are “the rare place where marketing, operations, and strategy all become one.”