Tips for Choosing Contractors to Build Out Your Coffee Shop

Many of us have heard contractor and buildout horror stories told by people who started a small restaurant or coffee shop business. There are often unexpected setbacks, major unforeseen expenses, and long delays from not passing inspections the first time. But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if it’s possible to choose high quality contractors to build out your coffee shop?

We teach students in our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class how to navigate a buildout smoothly and cost-effectively. Below, we’re sharing a few of our best tips to help get you started.

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Why Do Buildouts Often Have So Many Roadblocks?

One of the common reasons that mishaps happen is because the business owner bypasses a critical piece of the puzzle—the architect. The architect is the person that not only draws up blueprints and coffee shop design, but also gets engineering reports, specs materials that meet both city and health codes, and more.

Many first-time coffee shop startups go straight to the general contractor to get a bid, with none of the aforementioned necessities in hand. This leaves a contractor with many unknowns and makes the project difficult to bid accurately. It also puts stress on the business owner to come up with answers they probably don’t have. This can leave a project open to high unforeseen expenses and extended timelines.

When things start getting difficult, the business owner typically reaches out to a coffee equipment reseller, a coffee roaster, or a coffee business consultant for help, not realizing these people don’t specialize in construction. Sure, they are critical for help with coffee equipment recommendations, coffee shop workflow layout, and other coffee shop business specifics, but in the buildout phase they are a secondary line of support as a subject matter expert. The primary line of support needs to be an architect, because they specialize in designing and providing direction to the general contractor and can greatly streamline the process. Without the architect laying out the plans and specifications, the contractor has a lot of guess work. 

How to Manage a Buildout the Right Way

Find an Architect

We suggest reaching out to an architect early in your process, ideally before you sign a lease. They may discover major changes needed just to get the space up to current city code. It’s even more critical if you’re looking at putting your coffee shop in a historic building. You want to know what you’re getting into before you sign a lease.

Architects usually have resources like engineers that can spec the proper size HVAC system to keep up with your body load and equipment heat. Engineers will also be critical in ensuring you have the proper electrical panel specced and numerous other factors.

Ask for Contractors to Build Out Your Coffee Shop

Once you have an architect drawing, material specs, and an engineering report, you can leverage your architect for reputable contractor recommendations. They aren’t going to recommend a company that would make their life more difficult during the buildout or make them look bad. They’ll likely have worked this company many times before and know they do good work.

When you use a professional architect, you’re not only paying for architectural design, you’re also paying for access to their pool of reputable resources that will undoubtedly save you time, money, and stress. The architect will be your guide through each step of the buildout process. The expense is worth it!

Choose the Right Type of Contractor

Another common mistake new coffee shop owners make is going to the wrong type of contractor. There’s a big difference between a commercial contractor that specializes in office, warehouse, and other types of commercial projects, and a contractor that focuses on restaurant, cafe, and other food concepts that involve the health department.

You wouldn’t ask a dermatologist to administer your annual heart checkup, would you? Just because they have a doctorate degree doesn’t mean they’re the best fit for treating every part of the body. In the same way, you don’t want to hire a contractor that primarily focuses on non-food and beverage types of businesses.

Invest in Professional Labor

Many business owners think they can save money by doing the work themselves. And yes, they may be able to save on some initial labor expenses, but they rarely understand how to set an accurate budget or build to city, fire, and health codes.

New business owners also don’t typically know the intricacies of city rules and regulations. The first time they sit down with someone at the city, they might say a few of the wrong things that end up costing them significantly more—like needing a massive in-ground grease trap because they didn’t understand that “preparing food” is a technical term and can open an entire can of worms that may not have been necessary if they weren’t actually “preparing” food on-site. They also commonly have to go back and do certain major parts over again (and again) to pass inspection. The DIY coffee shop buildouts we’ve seen tend to cost more than they should have and take longer than they should have.

Tip: We suggest adding an additional 20% to your buildout budget as a buffer for unforeseen expenses that may come up. That way, you don’t have to take out an additional loan or line of credit later on when your back’s against the wall.

Get a head start at Texas Coffee School

It’s one thing to read about these how-tos, but another thing to learn in the classroom and put these tips into action! When you sign up for a coffee business master class at Texas Coffee School you will gain very current and powerfully detailed insights that will help you navigate each phase of opening your coffee shop business. We’ve worked deep in the action with every type of coffee business model imaginable over the last decade and a half, and we are excited to put our experience to work for you! Let’s make your dream coffee shop into a reality! Sign up for an upcoming class today! 

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