Five Books You Should Read Before Opening a Coffee Shop

It’s a common dream: walk away from that monotonous, soul-crushing nine-to-five and open a coffee shop. But before you go all in on your dreams, it might be a good idea to make sure your dream is in fact to run a coffee shop. Although there is no replacement for hard work and experience, these five books will give you some insight into how to make a very difficult business model work.

Photo by Prima Coffee

What I Know About Running Coffee Shops

If you only read one book on this list, make sure it’s Colin Harmon’s What I Know About Running Coffee Shops. Harmon, who started legendary Dublin café 3FE, takes his readers behind the curtain, sharing his hard-earned expertise. Whether you have questions concerning pricing, staffing, bar flow, or hospitality, Harmon has the answers you’re looking for. The book is immensely practical with lot’s of charts and graphs that are sure to steer a new café owner or manager in the right direction. The initial printing has sold out, but our sponsors Prima Coffee still have some copies.

Business Model Generation 

We’ll let you in on specialty coffee’s dirty secret: serving good coffee is not what makes a café successful. Case in point: your city probably has dozens if not hundreds or successful coffees shops with terrible coffee. In contrast, every year cafés with excellent coffee and passionate baristas are shuttered for financial reasons. Many coffee shop owners don’t have a solid business background, which is why we recommend the book Business Model Generation: a Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. A business mentor of ours described this book as an “MBA for liberal arts majors,” and we couldn’t agree more. Whether it’s helping you define your value proposition, understanding your competitive advantage, or understanding your customer, this fun, engaging book will bring clarity to your business model.

Setting the Table Danny Meyer

Setting the Table

Whether it’s iconic New York restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe or the international chain Shake Shack, restauranteur Danny Meyer knows something about success at the highest levels of the restaurant industry. His best-selling book Setting the Table reveals the key to his success: hospitality. The coffee industry is a crowded marketplace. There’s never been more places to get a good cup of coffee. If your shop is going to be successful you’ll need exceptional hospitality, and there’s no one better to learn it from than Meyer.

The Coffee Dictionary

Specialty coffee, like any industry, has its own complex and nuanced insider language. Few things will ruin your credibility in the coffee industry like misusing a technical term. Thankfully, one of Specialty Coffee’s sharpest minds has written a concise and articulate dictionary. The Coffee Dictionary is the latest book from Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, coauthor of Water for Coffee. Whether it’s about espresso or extraction, you need definitions, and Colonna-Dashwood has them. Tom Jay’s gorgeous illustrations make this a book as aesthetically pleasing as it’s educational.

The Coffee Brewing Handbook 

We would like to redact our previous statement. If you’re going to have a successful coffee shop, the coffee better be good. If there’s one thing that’s bound to bum us out, it’s meeting a café owner who is clearly disinterested in their product. The specialty coffee boom has produced a slew of cafés with contemporary design, industry-standard equipment, and terrible coffee. Although they’re a little dated now, the SCAA Handbook series remains required reading for anyone who wants to be a coffee professional. They’re all worth picking up, but The Coffee Brewing Handbook is probably the most relevant for a café manager or owner. It’s dense, technical, and doesn’t have any cool lifestyle photos, but the content is foundational.

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