Practical advice for launching, maintaining, and succeeding.
by Cathy Hutchison
One evening at Bayside Church in Granite Bay, CA, Debbie Carapiet was setting up for an event when a couple came by looking for the church’s Celebrate Recovery program—which was located across the street. Two others wandered in, whom Debbie was able to direct to the right location.
“There has to be a clear plan that this is a ministry arm of the church.”
As the experience nagged at her she kept wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t been there. The more she thought about it, the more she became convinced that having church members onsite was significant in helping people to connect. At the time, the church had a café that was open around events. Seeing this as a possible welcoming front door, Carapiet went to the church leadership and asked if she could take on the project of keeping the café open thirteen hours a day.
RUNNING A COFFEE SHOP WITH VOLUNTEERS
“People don’t drive around with café hours in their car. I knew that if God was in it and I worked really hard that we would know in 3 months if this was possible. I know a lot of people, so thirty came to that first meeting. You have to understand, I didn’t know anything about coffee—I drink decaf—but, I do know about people. My job was to (first) make sure people were trained and that they had ownership, and then I could make sure the volunteers were well cared for,” says Carapiet.
“If you are going to do it, you have to invest in the best equipment, training for staff and have a quality product.”
Bayside’s café has become a model of success for volunteer-run cafés in churches. Carapiet has over 85 volunteers each working a three-hour shift per week to make the cafe run. Volunteers commit to a year and have a consistent weekly schedule. The consistent schedule means that customers—who typically also come in on a schedule—have the opportunity to develop relationships with the staff over time. It also means that volunteers develop relationships with each other.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover. Once people are in their schedule, they become friends with the people that they work with. Some of our volunteers are retired. We have a system where people are responsible for finding their own subs and covering for vacation. It works so well,” explains Carapiet. “When the café first began, we tried hiring people based around events, but there wasn’t the same sense of mission that we’ve been able to achieve with volunteers. We’re organized, we choose dependable people, and we say thank you. They are volunteers for two weeks, and then they are friends.”
Most of the customer base at Bayside comes from the congregation, and the café runs as a non-profit with any proceeds donated into ministry. “Our gourmet coffee is donated and the café donates $1000 per month to our favorite charity. “
Carapiet advises that to run the volunteer model successfully you have to find someone who really loves people and wants to work for God. “Sometimes I feel like I have my own little church within the church. Everyone knows that I care for them. I have the best job,” shares Carapiet.
RUNNING A MINISTRY AS A COMMERCIAL COFFEE SHOP
Life in Deep Ellum is a cultural center in urban Dallas, that is run by the faith community who meets there on Sunday mornings. Life in Deep Ellum’s mission is the artistic, social, economic, and spiritual benefit of their immediate community.
“People will only try you once.”
“Mokah Coffee Bar is the hospitality of Life in Deep Ellum,” shares Amy Nickell, coffee shop manager. “We are the front door in the space of the whole community.”
Mokah is fully self-sustained —and is a competitive coffee shop. “We have paid staff throughout the week and a volunteer group for church gatherings. Consistency is important to us. Sunday morning baristas are trained the same as weekday staff.” Nickell’s role is to take care of the details and keep the day-to-day operations going. “We try to structure so that the baristas have the freedom to be at the coffee bar and talk with customers. Our goal is to create meaningful conversations and connections with the Deep Ellum community. ”
Six Keys to Success:
- Choose a central location. The coffee bar or café needs to be visible where people enter and exit for events.
- Build it like a Starbucks. There is a line between café and concession stand. The look and feel of the space determines what you can charge for the coffee.
- Layout impacts speed. The smaller the footprint the better—with five and a half feet between the front and back counter as a rule of thumb. Starbucks may only have 10 people in line, but at an event, you may have 100.
- Budget for the right equipment. The equipment can run between $18,000 and $35,000. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive, but it does have to be professional level.
- Keep the menu simple. You will be more effective in staff training and ordering if your menu is simple.
- Consistency wins. A mocha needs to be a mocha every time a customer orders. It takes training to get that consistency and customers will demand it.
Mike Bacile of the Daily Java helps churches set up, train and operate ministry cafes.
Mokah’s customers come from the community. Local businesses, students and residents come to the shop for excellent coffee roasted by local roaster, Tweed, and pastries from the Empire Baking Company—a local Dallas business. The coffee bar has its own entrance and is adjacent to the art gallery. While there are events on most weekends, during the week, Mokah caters to people who come to work or study.
“We want Mokah to be the kind of place where you can do your best work—whatever that work is. We want good relationships and good conversations. The plan is based around community.”
Prior to managing Mokah, Nickell was an elementary school teacher. She relates, “Personally, I was surprised that I was good at this, but I like business and I like people. We’ve found you can’t treat the coffee shop like a Sunday morning; you have to treat it professionally.
We are committed to providing a valuable product, giving the customer as good of an experience as other commercial coffee shops.
For churches planning to add a café, I advise them to do market research. Is there a need for coffee? If there are three other businesses already serving your community, well, then probably not. Try to find out what your community actually needs, and meet that need with excellence.”
CHALLENGES TO CONSIDER FOR START UPS
“When you start from the design and construction side, planning for a café is expensive,” points out Deborah Sweeney of Anchor Pointe, who has served as the owner’s representative for successful ministries with coffee bars and cafés such as Watermark, First Baptist Dallas and Bent Tree Bible Fellowship. “More cities are becoming stringent about food service. Depending on the way you structure, you may find yourself under different health code requirements. Grease traps, exhausts systems, and even ice machines may need permits from the health department because of the strict codes around food and coffee preparation. Some locations are inspected monthly. You have to handle it in a professional manner,” Sweeney says.
“Even grab and go containers can be problematic. One of my clients added one to help make their coffee bar more profitable and the city made them take it out,” adds Sweeney. Sweeney believes that every church needs to go in with a ministry viewpoint on a café. “One of the biggest factors we’ve seen in whether or not churches are profitable in their cafés has to do with location. St. Paul Café at First Baptist Dallas is a huge success story. It opens to the street of a downtown city block, is run very well and has been touted as downtown Dallas’s best hamburger. Other churches I’ve worked with have found that their customer base is primarily centered around events at the church. It will be hard to be open—ten hours a day with paid staff when there are no customers—if there isn’t a ministry perspective from the start.”
Speed and quality are other factors that determine success. “If you are going to do it,” says Sweeney, “you have to invest in the best equipment, training for staff and have a quality product. If your customers are mostly coming around events, you have to be able to meet the volume during those events or people won’t bother. People will only try you once.”
“There is a romance to having a café. Sometimes in the planning phase, people talk about how the profits for the café will be spent—either donated to missions or to help fund some other program. What most churches don’t realize is that you may need to subsidize the café for several years until it becomes sustainable. There has to be a clear plan that this is a ministry arm of the church.”
Cathy Hutchison is a freelance writer whose interests include the impact of technology, economic and culture shifts on churches. Cathy also serves as the Director of Connection for Idibri. This article was originally written for Worship Facilities Magazine, and reposted here with permission.