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David’s Pop-Up Coffee Shop: Behind the Scenes

I opened up a pop-up coffee shop out of my apartment this week. I made milk tea and coffee drinks and delivered them to students personally. It’s finals week here at UC Irvine and I personally don’t enjoy leaving my studies to get coffee. It ruins my study flow. I don’t want to spend time walking to a coffee shop, ordering, waiting for a drink, and walking back to my study location. Crunch time means spending the most of your available actually studying. The idea of opening a coffee shop was a perfect opportunity for me to gain some empirical business experience, run my own small coffee shop, and help students out a little bit.

Many of us have this dream of opening up a coffee shop. Who wouldn’t want to own one? You serve people coffee, helping them get through their day, you meet awesome people, you’re your own boss, and you get to choose the music playlist amongst other things.

I’ve dreamed of owning a coffee shop since high school when my group of friends brought up the idea. I recently put more thought into it and researched the process of opening up a shop, what to expect, what to know, who to talk to, etc. It was exciting–except I don’t have the money to open one up.

My friend, Cora, opened up a pop-up coffee shop out of her own apartment during our previous round of finals and called it “Cora’s Caffeine Crunch.” She made coffee, tea, and snacks, took orders through Facebook and text, and delivered the goods personally. I didn’t know how she made time for it with exams to study for, but she inspired me. She took the dream many of us have, scaled it down, worked with what she had, and, essentially, opened up her own mini-coffee shop. It was great. I wanted to do it–or at least help out.

This time around, Cora didn’t have time to open up a coffee and tea delivery service. I, on the other had, didn’t have final exams to worry about.¬† I was hesitant to take up the opportunity, but the idea consumed me. I wondered how well it would even do. who would actually buy drinks from me? What if I end up losing money? I didn’t decide to do it until the Sunday before exams began. However, I couldn’t prepare until Monday. Nonetheless, it was decided. I was going to open up my own small coffee and tea delivery service.

I wanted to do this pop-up coffee shop for a few reasons:

  1. I hate interrupting my studying to get a caffeine fix. It ruins my study flow and wastes time. Consider walking to the nearby Starbucks, waiting in line, waiting for your order, walking back to your study location, then taking another 10-15 minutes to regain your focus. That’s a lot of time. I wanted to help students maximize their study time. I wanted to help students by providing the convenience of a personally delivered drink.
  2. I wanted to see what it’s like to organize orders and get deliveries out on my own. I’ve worked in retail for almost 3 years and I’ve developed my customer service skills. It’s time to see how well I could put them into use on my own.
  3. I wanted to experience the business aspect of a coffee shop. I created an excel sheet which allowed me to input how many units I sold of each product and easily determine how much profit I made.

Many of us want to open up a coffee shop, but there are more things to take into consideration than just location and making coffee. I wanted to see how well I understood things on a smaller scale before I decide to go big. In case you didn’t notice, making money wasn’t a goal. I was going after the experience and knowledge. However, the expenses came out of my own pocket and prices were set so I could break even. If you’re wondering where profits will be going, they’re going to help pay my bills. (:

The strangest part of setting up shop was the shopping itself. While waiting in lien to buy coffee beans from Portola Coffee Lab, I realized that, for once, I wasn’t buying the beans for myself. It was weird. As I browsed the shelves at Smart & Final lined with cups of all sizes, cups for hot drinks, cups for cold drinks, green teas, black teas, creamer, etc., I thought, “Am I really doing this?” I literally paused for a few seconds to think the question over. “Hell yeah I am.” I spent about 5 hours making cup after cup of coffee and milk tea, getting the proportions and brewing times for each drink just right. It felt nice creating drinks for the sake of others. Needless to say, I drank a lot of my experimental drinks. I was wired.

I received some input as well.

“Aren’t your prices a bit low? You should choose either low prices or convenience, both may be a bad idea if you want to make profit. What about gas money?”

Contrary¬† to what others may think, my prices are actually relatively low. The beans are quality and the cost of gas and all the materials added up to quite a bit. However, again, my main goal was to provide a convenience for students. If I were a student, convenience and a low price is perfect. I also wanted the empirical knowledge of the whole thing. In terms of profit,¬† I was confident I would at least break even and that people would be generous enough to tip. I wasn’t worried about money.

Upon release of the Facebook event page, The Pop-Up Coffee Shop was met with great approval and praise. Honestly, I was surprised. The hesitation was due to a fear of “it might not work,” or “people might not like the idea,” but I’m glad I followed through with it.

“One of my dreams that I’ve had for a while is to own and operate a Coffee shop Before I turn 30. I have a whole vision behind the idea but, of course, the biggest thing I need is money … but I just wanted to say that I’ve been inspired by your good and generous deed. It has given me encouragement to not give up on my dream and that it doesn’t matter how small I start.” – Mina

“I give you props for all the start ups you’ve done. You’ve started a fashion consulting as well as help smaller shops such as Portola gain more awareness about them. You’re also pretty up to date with innovative ways to bring a community together for a good cause, such as the wall. Good luck with everything man, you seem to be on the road towards success with a lot of big ideas.” – Michael

Mina and Michael took the time to message me personally and, to say the least, the encouragement really helps keep my fire going. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that I can encourage others keep their dreams alive by doing what I want to do. It’s also nice when others notice the time, work, and passion you put into your life.

I love that I can help others get through their exams by making and delivering to them a simple drink. It’s an even more amazing feeling knowing that I can inspire others by doing what I do best, have huge aspirations, take action, and pursue (and eventually live) my own dreams.

I definitely hope to do this on a larger scale one day.

I hope everyone enjoyed their drinks! I want to thank everyone for being extremely patient with the delays on their drinks. It was difficult running the small business with such a small team (at times only myself). Thank you for all of the support and I hope final exams are going or went well!

Last, but not least, thank you to Cora for inspiring me to do this small project and helping me out along the way! I’ve learned a lot from you and I hope you continue to do what you enjoy doing!


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