Now Open

April 24, 2010

We are now open at Echo Coffee. Our hours are 7am to 10pm. Our menu will fill out throughout this week, but expect fresh, organic pastries and great coffee until we introduce the lunch menu in the middle of the week.

For those that have visited us over the last 24 hours, thank you for your patience.

The Start Line is Within Sight

April 22, 2010

As I start this post, it is Thursday night at 10:21pm.† The Suns just beat the Blazers, and most people are getting ready for bed.† Personally, Iím very tired, but at the same time, Iím quite excited.

As a quick status update, we just missed getting our Certificate of Occupancy today.† There were two very minor problems:†the buildingís fire monitoring had lapsed allowing 3 batteries to fall dead, which needed changing (you have to laugh at some of the types of things that can hold up such a huge, complicated project).† Thatís a landlord responsibility, which was quickly corrected, shortly after the fire marshal left.† As well, the Men and Women signs were not hung by the bathrooms (they were inside the bathrooms on the counter), so we didnít pass structural.† Both problems were fixed in a few minutes, and we expect to get CofO at 8am Friday morning.

With CofO all but in hand, weíve schedule the health department inspector for Friday morning at 11am.† They were just at the shop last Friday, so the only significant differences will be that refrigerators are now plugged in, soap and towel dispensers are present, and water is hot.† Although itís certainly not a †slam dunk that we will pass health inspection, we do believe we are ready.

This means that around noon on Friday, April 23, 2010, we will officially be allowed to open for business at Echo Coffee.† On one hand it feels like the end of a long journey, but on the other hand I know it is really just the start of one.† You might say that my training rides are over, and the real race is about to begin.

This weekend, weíll offer a limited menu, consisting of coffees, teas, bottled drinks, and a few fresh baked pastries.† As the sandwich and salad items get perfected, weíll add each of them over the course of the next week or two.† In getting to this point, weíve thoroughly enjoyed sampling various meats, cheeses, and breads.† We think weíve lined up some absolutely amazing suppliers for all of the items on our menu, and we canít wait to showcase the food side of the menu.

For coffee, the roaster decided to stop working last Saturday as I was roasting up coffee for this week.† Without a doubt, it was the low point of the last week, realizing the roaster simply would not fire up no matter what†we did.† In the end, it turns out the overheating sensor had malfunctioned.† This put the roaster into a permanent flame out mode.† Alas, at 9pm tonight, I was finally able to get it to fire up for the first time in nearly week.† Fortunately, I have just enough roasted coffee on hand to last until tomorrowís batches are ready.† We have contingencies for this type of problem now and in the future, but we just never expected to need to put this into motion at launch.† Fortunately we wonít have too.

Over the next week, we have 4 parties planned.† The first is the after party for The Scottsdale Camp on Saturday night.† The next is a contractorís party on Wednesday night, giving us a chance to thank all of the†contractorís for their hard work.† The third is an employee friends and family party on Thursday night.† This party will give our initial 10 employees a chance to show off their new place of work.† And finally, on Saturday night, May 1st will be an ownerís friends and family night.

Iím tired.† Iím excited.† Iím doing laundry, and I have a smile on my face.† I look forward to sharing Echo Coffee with you.

Photo Credit: jayneandd

A look at our construction schedule, and when we will open

April 16, 2010

image While the school of hard knocks is still in session, but before I forget much of what it took to get to our opening date, I wanted to share a few of the speed bumps weíve travelled across, in getting very, very close to opening the doors.

When I first decided that I really wanted to open a coffee shop last summer, the first date I worked toward was January 1, 2010.† As late as mid-October, I thought this date was possible, because I had identified the location for Echo Coffee, was negotiating the lease in earnest, started discussions with my architect, and had selected my general contractor.† The contractor said he could get it done in 60 days, and the landlord and I were largely in agreement over the terms of the lease.† However, I needed to get some approvals/clearances from the city of Scottsdale regarding the roaster, parking, and maximum square footage for the dining room.† By the time I had all of these city items squared away it was actually late November.

The next sets of delays were as a result of the holidays and getting plans ready for the city to review.† I had a fully approved and signed lease on December 20, but from mid-December to mid-January essentially no work was completed by the architect and his engineers.† I had worked with commercial architects in the past, but never on anything as complicated as this coffee shop (significantly bigger projects by square footage, but office space is comparatively easy).† Unfortunately, there were many delays caused by miscommunications between myself, the architect, and his engineers, and all of those miscommunications cost time, money, or both.

It wasnít until mid-February before we had a fully approved plan from the city of Scottsdale.† The city planners themselves were very efficient, and if I might say, enjoyable to work with.† It is obvious to me that they care about small business success, and while they donít just approve anything that lands on their desk, change requests were based on safety and city codes, and all communicated very quickly.† In working with the city, they actually helped me to clarify some of my operational business decisions.† Once again, the delays with getting the plan approved had to do with my architect and his engineers, which always seemed to take a week to get their attention.

Construction started in late February.† At the time construction started, I communicated that I needed to be open on April 9.† For me, this was a drop dead date, as I had committed to provided coffee for RE BarCamp Phoenix 2010 on April 9.† With an estimated 500 attendees, I knew I would need commercial brewing equipment in order to meet the obligation, which meant I had to have the shop operation.† My contractor said the schedule was tight, but possible, and I began publicly reporting that the shop would be open on April 10.

As April 1 arrived, it became apparent that while I had done everything I could to get the shop open by April 10, it wasnít going to happen.† Southwest Gas needed to tear into Thomas Road to connect gas to the building, and though we had completed a meeting between SWG and the City of Scottsdale, we could not get a status from them when that construction project would occur.† The landlord also needed to provide a few items, which I was having some difficulty acquiring.† Tenant Improvements for the shop were progressing at a maddening pace, but a significant snag in the way the espresso bar was set to be wired caused a 4 day slip, as the electrical drawings had to be redrawn by the engineer for the electrical contractor to proceed.

As I write this, It is now April 16, and while we are close to being able to open, I donít have a clear date when we will certainly be open to the public.† Despite evidence to the contrary, I was able to make coffee for RE BarCamp, but it took some finagling by the electricians to get me temporary power setup just for April 9.

Among the latest delays to occur just in the last 2 days:

  • APS arrived yesterday at 2:30pm, and refused to set the power meters, because a circuit break was not labeled.† I personally spoke with an APS rep over the phone about the requirements for setting the power meters.† I was told the suite door had to be labeled (it is), and that the power meter locations needed to be labeled (they are).† No mention was made of the circuit break spot.† Of course, my electrical contractor should probably know this, but itís annoying that I wasnít told by the APS rep, as if I had known I would have ensured it was done.† So power for the shop† is delayed at least a day over a label.
  • City of Scottsdale was supposed to inspect our gas line and provide a Green tag.† They havenít been seen, and we donít have a green tag.† Therefore we cannot get our gas meter, so no gas for hot water or coffee roasting.† At this time, I don’t have an ETA for that green tag.
  • Certificate of Occupancy requires the power, gas, and AC balancing (which can’t happen until the power is turned on).† We had planned to request CofO on April 19, but at best case that is now April 20.† A lot of carefully planned items are now out of plan, due to the power and gas meters not being installed on schedule.† Getting CofO on April 20 is very much in doubt.
  • A health department inspector came by today and informed my chef that we need a prep sink.† Strangely enough, we have a prep sink.† The prep sink was approved by a previous health inspector and by their plan review department.† I wasnít there at the time of the inspection, so I donít understand the issue with the prep sink.† Sadly, this type of delay has happened frequently when I canít be there at a critical decision point.† Iím sure we will work passed this problem, but it means additional effort, which translates into time, which in all likelihood translates into a further delay.

Before it looks like Iím blaming everyone else for delays, as if I were somehow perfect, I should enumerate mistakes that I know I personally made that caused delays:

  • I initially allowed the plans to locate the water heater within the kitchen.† As the kitchen was being framed I kept trying to find a way to get the water heater out of the kitchen.† It takes up 9 square feet, and given the kitchen is only 150 square feet, thatís a significant footprint within a small space.† I finally found a way to get it out of the kitchen, but it cost me a $1000 change order from the plumber, along with several days in schedule slippage.
  • I didnít provide for any place to plug in either a commercial mixer or Panini grill in the kitchen.† These items require 220 volt power, on their own circuit, requiring them to be on the plan from the engineer for the electrician to wire, for the inspector to approve.
  • Although there were numerous mistakes in the electrical drawing for the espresso bar, I never reviewed the drawing in detail myself, prior to construction.† It is so much easier to fix things on paper than it is in the field.† I watched all of the rough-ins by the electrician as the walls were framed, and all appeared to be perfect.† Then they started pulling wire, and thatís when it became evident several things were amiss.
  • The ceiling design originally included a ďcloudĒ treatment from the architect.† I didnít actually want this design element but the architect felt it was important so it was on the plan.† I told the contractor not to build it, but didnít realize all of the other things the cloud design impacted.† Notably, the way the AC ducting was noted to be installed very, very tight to the ceiling.† I wanted to the AC ducting to be suspended from the ceiling, which caused a full day of rework for the AC guy.
  • In early March I completely changed the lighting plan from the original design the architect had draw.† Reworking the lighting design took nearly two weeks.† Until the design was done, the fixtures could not be ordered, and accordingly arrived late.† Most of the light fixtures were finally installed until yesterday (April 15).† There are still a few we are waiting on (though these wonít impact our ability to get CofO).

Iím sure the list is longer, but hopefully this conveys the point.† Echo Coffee is personally my brain child.† Every aspect of how the shop looks, operates, succeeds and/or fails, will start and end with me.† Every day I relish the opportunity to have an amazingly successful day, and for the most part, Iím running around with great personal joy, as I accomplish so much with so little.† Occasionally my fallibility shows.† Sometimes in spectacular ways.

In conclusion, I donít know for sure when Echo Coffee will be open.† The phone literally just rang, and I told the lady on the line that we are working very hard to be open Wednesday, April 21.† Maybe it will be Thursday.† Maybe it will be Friday.† I really, really, really donít want it to be later than Friday.† We have 7 new employees starting work on Monday.† Two more are slated for Wednesday.† The after party for The Scottsdale Camp is scheduled to be held at Echo Coffee Friday evening.† I canít quite say ďno matter whatĒ, as the health department isnít under my control, but somehow I expect we will be open by Friday, April 24.

For those that have expressed a desire to come to the shop when we open, thanks for your patience.† Itís soonÖvery soon.

Photo Credit: wwarby

The latte: Echo Coffee style

April 13, 2010

image Two weeks ago, I promised a look at the latte, Echo Coffee style.† Unfortunately, I feel quite ill the next day, followed by the insane amount of work surrounding all of the construction, hiring, and sourcing suppliers for the shop, itís taken me far longer than expected to follow up.

At any rate, letís talk a bit about the latte.† Unlike the cappuccino, the latte doesn’t have as precise a recipe. Ratios of espresso to steamed milk vary from 1:3 to 1:9.† For milk, the Echo Coffee latte will by default use 2% organic milk.† In contrast, a cappuccino will use whole milk as the default.† Since there is such a small quantity of milk, the slight increase in fat can be considered a bit of a reward for the cappuccino drinker.† Whole, skim, and soy milk will all be choices you can have in your latte.

Obviously, as milk is added, the flavor of the coffee dilutes and dilutes. Unless the coffee has a sharp taste, designed to power through a high volume of milk, most of what you will taste in a high ratio latte is milk.† To combat that flavor loss, a few options present themselves to the coffee roaster and/or barista to bring a suitable coffee flavor through a high volume of milk.

One approach to providing a strong espresso flavor suitable for powering through high volumes of milk, is to incorporate green coffee beans within the espresso blend with a naturally bitter flavor to them. Bitter flavors are stronger than the sweet, creamy flavor in milk, so excessive bitterness will indeed work.

Another approach is to introduce roasting flavors (smoke/burnt flavor) to the blend. French roast and darker roasts are indeed performed to do just this (as well as reducing some bitterness).† The darker the bean is roasted, the more origin flavor is removed from the coffee bean, and replaced by roasting flavors.† Care can be taken with darker roasts to limit the harsh burnt taste (if desired), but the result is still essentially the same.† Darker roasts produce a stronger flavor profile, which is strong enough to power through a large quantity of milk.

At Echo Coffee, what we will do is two fold.† Our espresso for latte will be roasted a little darker.† It wonít be burnt, but it will be roasted into the second crack.† Secondly, we wonít offer a 20 ounce latte.† Our largest latte will be 16 ounces.† The majority of coffee shops that offer a 20 ounce size put just 2 shots of espresso into that size, the same as a 20 ounce size.† Therefore, the only difference between the two sizes is the amount of milk, which further dilutes the coffee flavor.† We believe most customers are misguided by the larger size, and naturally assume there must be more coffee in the larger size.† Since the only thing in the larger size is more milk (and thus more calories), one could ask, why bother?

So we simply wonít offer anything larger than 16 ounces.† It saves you money and calories, and you get a better tasting coffee drink.† Looking at the ratios for a 12 ounce and 16 ounce latte, with a 2 ounce shot of espresso, the ratios are 5:1 and 7:1.

Lattes are frequently flavored, with the possible range of flavors is very extensive.† Chocolate, vanilla, nuts, berries, etc. are all possible flavors found in lattes.† At Echo Coffee, we will offer a limited but we think comprehensive list of flavors:† Guittard chocolate, Monin vanilla and sugar free vanilla, Monin hazelnut, Ghirardelli Caramel, and Ghirardelli White Chocolate.

Photo Credit: ewitsoe