With three thriving coffee shops, a robust wholesale roasting operation and an active events space now under the umbrella of her Elmhurst, Illinois-based company Brewpoint Coffee, Melissa Villanueva has learned a thing or two about coffee business operations.
While still wearing all those small business owner hats, Villanueva’s most recent title is that of published author, as she and co-author Linda Formichelli have just released a new book called “Starting & Running a Coffee Shop.”
“It’s crazy how many times we get asked to open a new shop in the surrounding area, but I am dedicated to my local community,” Villanuava told Daily Coffee News. “Our main vision is to have three shops in Elmhurst, and utilize our wholesale business and book to help empower others do what we’ve done in Elmhurst, but in their own communities.”
Villanueva opened the original location of Brewpoint Coffee, called Brewpoint Coffee – Founders Cafe, five years and one month ago in a location she found on Craigslist. The second shop, called Brewpoint Coffee – Lexicon Cafe, opened at the Elmhurst Public Library two years later. The company’s flagship Brewpoint Workshop & Roastery followed closely with its opening at the end of 2017.
Roasted coffee production for all shops and wholesale clients continues to center on a Probat P12 machine, and output is rapidly rising. Villanueva said that in the past year, particularly since inking a new distribution deal with Chicago Beverage Company (CBC), Brewpoint leapt from roasting 300 pounds per week to more than 800.
To get the job done, the roastery now supports two full-time employees plus an internship program that provides hands-on training opportunities to students with disabilities. Brewpoint also transitioned last year from its proudly direct sourcing relationships with Philippine coffee producers to a similarly exclusive focus on sourcing directly from Costa Rica instead.
“A big part of that decision was the cost of green and being unable to make that relationship sustainable and profitable for both parties,” said Villanueva. “In that transition, we were lucky enough to find Marianella Baez Jost, a farmer and producer who lives both in the states and Costa Rica. She has helped provide us with multiple channels of direct trade coffee through her own farm and through her program called the Farmers Project that provides fairer wages to coffee farmers.”
Through all this growth, progress and change, Villanueva still managed to find the time to co-author a book about starting and running a coffee shop. The energy to tackle it all, she said, springs from her motivation to make a positive impact on the world.
“Small businesses can change communities,” Villanueva said. “Most people who open a coffee shop aren’t doing it so they can become rich; they are doing it because they care about people and doing something meaningful with their lives. They can create eco-systems that are fair and thoughtful to their employees, farmers, vendors, and everyone that they touch.”
Daily Coffee News caught up with Villanueva via email to learn more about “Starting & Running a Coffee Shop,” which is currently available for purchase on Amazon. Signed editions are also available for sale at Brewpoint’s Founders and Workshop locations.
Daily Coffee News: Do you advise aspiring shop-owners to pursue roasting their own coffee?
That’s a great question. I think it depends on the person and their bandwidth to do something like that at the same time as opening a coffee shop.
On one hand, roasting your own coffee provides you with a better profit margin, more control over your coffee, and a potentially better customer experience, especially if you are roasting in the cafe. On the other hand, partnering with a great wholesale partner can save you a whole bunch of time, provide you with training and possibly equipment, and give you an additional partner to ask all your coffee shop questions to.
For us, it made sense to start off with a wholesale relationship. After we felt like we had a good grasp of our cafe, we started pursuing coffee roasting. It took us about three years before we started roasting our own coffee for our cafes and it took another year for our wholesale program to launch off in a bigger way.
What are some details (legal, culinary, branding-related or other) that newcomers often overlook?
Here are my top three tips that I give to any aspiring coffee shop owner:
1) If you are low on budget, buying a turnkey location versus building out a coffee shop could save you over $100k in build out expenses. It may not be perfect, but if the location is great then you can make it your ideal space over time.
2) Don’t skimp on good accounting. If I could do it all over again, I would have spent more for both in-house and external accounting systems from the very start.
3) Do the hard work of making financial projections: After taxes, shoot for a financial plan that entails 35-40% cost of goods, 25-30% payroll, 20% other expenses, and 10-20% profit.
What comes next for Brewpoint?
It is one thing to say you are a company that has strong values, and it’s another thing to show it through your financials. In the next three years, we are working towards making all our coffee direct trade, starting our base pay at $15 per hour for baristas (including tips), creating career level wages for our leadership team, and choosing vendors based upon social/environmental impact versus price. With that being said, our focus is both internal but also external as we work towards creating strong coffee partnerships with businesses that share our aspirations and values.
What comes next for Melissa Villanueva, the literary figure?
SO. MANY. THINGS.
I am an economic development commissioner for Elmhurst and I am leading our first big entrepreneurship event for Chicago’s western suburbs. It’s called the Makers & Shakers Entrepreneurship Event and we plan to have over 100 entrepreneurs attend to meet, greet, play games, eat awesome food, and hear from successful entrepreneurs in a “How I Built This” format. The event is on October 10, from 6-9 p.m. at the Brewpoint Workshop & Roastery… If all goes well, I anticipate that my involvement with the intersection between small business and politics will grow.
On a fun side note, I have another book that I will be promoting in the next several months that I was able to model for [on the cover]. It is a romantic novel about a Filipina-American woman coffee shop owner. I can’t talk too much about it yet, but it really is wild what kind of opportunities come your way as an entrepreneur!
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.