A delightful essay on what it is to open a coffee shop--wait! Not just a coffee shop, a cozy, warm cafe that seats 25 and serves Vienna coffee and delicious French pastries:
We started out by engaging a pedigreed gentleman baker with Le Bernardin on his résumé. Hercule, as I'll call him, embodied every French stereotype in existence: He was jovial, enthusiastic, rude, snooty, manic-depressive, brilliant, and utterly unreliable. His croissants were buttery, flaky, not too big, and $1.25 wholesale. We sold them for $2 and threw away roughly 50 percent—in other words, we were making a negative quarter on each croissant. After a couple of months of this, we downgraded to a more Americanized version of the croissant (vast and pillowy). The new croissants ran 90 cents each and made us feel vaguely dirty. We sold them for the same $2. Ironically, their elephantine size meant that every time someone ordered a croissant with cheese, we had to load it up with twice as much Gruyère.
Coffee was a different story—thanks to the trail blazed by Starbucks, the world of coffee retail is now a rogue's playground of jaw-dropping markups. An espresso that required about 18 cents worth of beans (and we used very good beans) was sold for $2.50 with nary an eyebrow raised on either side of the counter. A dab of milk froth or a splash of hot water transformed the drink into a macchiato or an Americano, respectively, and raised the price to $3. The house brew too cold to be sold for $1 a cup was chilled further and reborn at $2.50 a cup as iced coffee, a drink whose appeal I do not even pretend to grasp.
But how much of it could we sell? Discarding food as a self-canceling expense at best, the coffee needed to account for all of our profit. We needed to sell roughly $500 of it a day. This kind of money is only achievable through solid foot traffic, but, of course, our cafe was too cozy and charming to pop in for a cup to go. The average coffee-to-stay customer nursed his mocha (i.e., his $5 ticket) for upward of 30 minutes. Don't get me started on people with laptops.
There was, of course, one way to make the cafe viable: It was written into the Golden Rule itself. My wife Lily and I could work there, full-time, save on the payroll, and gerrymander the rest of the budget to allow for lower sales. Guess what, dear dreamers? The psychological gap between working in a cafe because it's fun and romantic and doing the exact same thing because you have to is enormous. Within weeks, Lily and I—previously ensconced in an enviably stress-free marriage—were at each other's throats.
Luckily, their marriage was saved by a bankruptcy a few months later. Sorry to clip so much, but it's a good and fun read.