Kiplinger's spoke with Michael Amouri, 57, of Vienna, Va., about why he left a longtime career in TV production to start his own coffee shop Caffe Amouri four years ago. Here are excerpts from our interview:
See Also: Secrets of Start-Up Success
Why the coffee business? About 14 years ago, I saw an article on the Internet about roasting coffee beans in a popcorn popper. I bought some green coffee beans online and a popper at a thrift shop for $2. The first time I brewed coffee, I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. I grew to love what I could do with the flavor of coffee through roasting and blending.
So you decided to open a shop? I spent 28 years in TV production, and I loved it. But I always thought, Wouldn’t it be cool to have a coffeehouse? At the time, I had a great job at the Discovery Channel, and leaving it was a tough decision. A start-up had to make business sense.
How did you prepare for your move? It took me about ten months to write a 60-page business plan. As part of my research, I hung out at a local Starbucks to profile its business. It took me about seven years and numerous phone calls to our local zoning official before I finally found the right location. We opened in 2010.
Where did you get your financing? I took a home-equity line of credit, and I asked my dad for a loan. I insisted on signed notes, but he gave me the money. I spent $250,000, but I could have done it for about $75,000 less, if I had known then what I know now about how to work with an architect and negotiate a lease.
Is it tough to compete with two nearby Starbucks stores? We’ve established ourselves as the place for coffee, whether beans or brewed. Our coffee roaster [located in the shop] slaps you in the face with the message that our coffee is fresh. We currently offer 20 coffees, including our own blends, plus our “Adventure Coffee” series, which are award-winning or rare coffees that we sell at a premium. My biggest strength is my staff. We look for people who are engaging, open and generally curious.
And you have a commitment to the community? We always look for ways to partner with Vienna. For example, we might provide free coffee to the PTA at the local elementary school. We reach out to a group, make an impact and get a bunch more customers. The cost might be higher than advertising but so is the retention rate. We sponsor open-mike nights and a popular vocal competition for charity called “Vienna Idol.”
Are you profitable? Yes. Since we opened, our sales have grown every month by an average of 23% over the previous year. I still don’t earn what I made at my last job, but I don’t really think about it.
What’s next? We’ve started planning for a second shop, and we’re looking for wholesale opportunities. Those endeavors can succeed, but I need to decide whether I have it in me. The first time, I didn’t take a day off for a year, and I was physically and psychologically beat. Success requires that level of dedication.
Your greatest pleasure? For a few years before my dad passed away, he drove here every day after lunch for coffee. Caffé Amouri is a legacy. Without it, I couldn’t have spent that time with him.
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