Music to My Ears

June 9, 2010

As the shop begins to settle in here in South Scottsdale, a joyful trend has begun to develop with customers that have been here a few times. After they place their order they immediately say,”For Here”. For example, “I’ll have a cappuccino, for here.” Or, “I’ll have an iced latte, for here.”

We hope that one of those reasons is the yummy 100% organic shortbread cookies you get when a hot espresso drink is for here, but we think another good reason is our Cremaware.

Cups and glasses (cremaware) at Echo CoffeeHere you can see a photo of all the cups and glasses we use for the drinks at Echo Coffee. The smallest cup is the 2 ounce demitasse for espresso and macchiato. Then there’s the 6 ounce cappuccino cup, followed by the 12 and 16 ounce latte cup. Naturally, each has a saucer. All of these cups are porcelain. For drip coffee we have the 12 and 16 ounce cups in ceramic. And finally for cold drinks we use the clear bar glasses in 16 and 20 ounce sizes.

With the number of drinks we serve “for here”, it does mean we wash a lot of dishes.  But that’s the way we prefer it, because we know that’s the way you would prefer it.  I mean, who would really want their coffee or cappuccino in a paper cup?  But for some reason, that has become the standard, not the exception.  At Echo Coffee we want to change the standard.  So the next time you stop in, we hope you have a few minutes to sit and enjoy your coffee, so that you can say, “For here”.  It’s music to my ears.

It’s the Little Things

June 7, 2010

The difference between good and great is often measured by the care and attention we pay to the little things. We could serve good coffee at Echo Coffee, but we want to serve great coffee. So we start with very high quality green coffee, take care to roast each batch to perfection, brew each cup individually, and serve it at it’s freshest point. Each of these steps individually help make a good cup of coffee, but together make it great.

Over the last few days, our Scottsdale shop suffered from periodic losses in power. Initially I thought APS might be having supply problems as a result of the sudden spike in temperatures. But as the problem turned chronic I began to suspect something other than power supply from APS was to blame. After a nearly hour long power outage Sunday night, I placed a call to my electrical contractor and they had someone out first thing Monday morning. He didn’t find anything wrong and suggested APS may be able to help.

I called APS and they had someone out by 10:30am (in less than 2 hrs), which amazed me. The APS guy immediately witnessed a micro outage (the lights blinked off and on) when he arrived, which was convenient, if not good for equipment or business. Fifteen minutes later a second outage was “heard” at the main service panel for the building, which indicated some type of faulty connection, as you should never hear electricity traveling along a wire.  At this point, we didn’t know what was wrong, but we certainly had APS’ attention.

The troubleshooter from APS checked numerous connections at the main panel to the building as well as the transformer outside the building, looking for any faulty wiring.  His assessment was that there was a problem, which an electrical contractor should look at it.  He also suggested that the contractor would need APS to turn off the power at the transformer to diagnose and repair the problem.

I was immediately alarmed.  APS suggested the contractor and the contractor suggested APS.  How would I get APS and an electrical contractor there at the same time?  Then the best news to that point in the morning: the troubleshooter from APS said he would wait until a contractor could arrive.  WOW!  What customer service.

Another call to my electrical contractor was able to get him back to the shop within an hour.  Shortly after he arrived, a second troubleshooter from APS arrived to help the first guy.  Now we had three experienced guys working on the troubling power at Echo Coffee.  Of course, by this time the power was almost completely out within the shop.  The AC had been non-functional for almost an hour, and we still didn’t know exactly what the problem was.  We were unable to make any espresso based drinks, it was 85 degrees inside the shop, and still happy customers came in to the shop, and with smiles continued to support us.  Once again, I’m amazed at the support we receive from the community.  Thank you.

With more of the house service panel disassembled, the guys identified what appeared to be a loose bolt used to connect and transfer power between the 3 bays of the electrical service panel.

It’s difficult to see in this this image, but in the shadow is a bolt and washer identical to the one in the foreground.  That bolt was loose, which resulted in the power loss whenever we started to put a higher load on the system (ie, it’s hot outside, and we need the AC running).

APS turned off the power to the building and the electrical contractor tightened up the bolt.  Alas, power was restored around 12:30pm.  The installation for this equipment was neither the responsibility of APS, nor my electrical contractor, but rather my landlord’s electrical contractor.  It was installed nearly 2 years ago, but with the building sitting empty, and no load on the system, the loose bolt had yet to manifest as a problem.

In this case, the littlest thing was a single loose bolt, and it was potentially ruining my business.

Fortunately, the right people worked together and fixed a small problem that was having a huge impact.  With the bolt tightened, power was restored, and almost 24 hours later, we have yet to have any further power outages.  It’s 75 degrees inside Echo Coffee, and all of the equipment is pulling shots, making coffee, and baking fresh food just as it should be.

So I’m reminded once again, that to be great, we always need to focus on the little things.  A minor grind adjustment can mean the difference between an under-extracted, thin shot of espresso or a great, rich, full shot of espresso.  It doesn’t matter how good the coffee is at origin, how well it was roasted, how perfectly it was tamped, or how stable the brew temperature is, if the grind is out of adjustment, the shot will be bad.  And so it is that we will continue to focus on each of the little things that added together, will help to make us be great.

Lastly, and most importantly, if you happened into Echo Coffee over the last few days, and stuck with us through a less than great experience, thank you very much.  We sincerely appreciate it.

What’s in a Name: Echo Coffee

May 15, 2010

Throughout the day, one of the more frequently asked questions I’m posed is what’s the significance, meaning, or why “Echo”?

There’s a short and a long answer to that question, and today I thought I’d give the long answer.

In my search for a name, it obviously had to be a name that was available as a coffee shop.  I wanted the name to be “Something” Coffee, where “Something” was relatively short (no more than 2 syllables, and 6 or less characters).  The complete name had to be available as a dot com.  It also had to be available for trademark and incorporation in Arizona.   The dot com requirement significantly limited the number of potential names, given that candidate names could now potentially be used by any shop in the world, not just Phoenix or Arizona.

My next desire was to in some way incorporate my passion for cycling in the name.  I immediately looked at parts on a bicycle as candidate names.  Names like “spoke”, “crank”, and “hub” seemed cool.  Of those, Hub was my favorite, but unfortunately for me, there was a Hub Coffee in Colorado when I did my name search (it appears to be available now, however).

Along the way, Echo Coffee kept popping up as a potential name.  For a long time, it was a name I liked, but didn’t love.  The name Echo only has a cycling related meaning for me personally, because I once raced with a friend as Team Echo in the 24 hrs in the Old Pueblo.  That race is a Le Mans style race, where teammates take turns making laps around the course (at the time they were 17 mile laps).  My friend John and I entered as a duo, and he came up with the name Echo for our team.  He noticed that between us we had 4 daughters: Emily, Charlotte, Hayley, and Olivia.  And thus Team Echo was born.

Finally, I did extensive testing on the name Echo Coffee amongst my friends, family, and complete strangers, asking for their opinion of the name.  This testing is what finally swayed me to choose Echo Coffee.  Overwhelmingly, people were either very positive toward the name, slightly positive, or neutral.  Essentially no one disliked or hated the name.  Clearly it’s important that whatever name is chosen be a name that the public can view in a positive light. Echo vaulted to the top of the list as a result of this focus group name testing.

Today, I couldn’t be happier with the name.  It’s short.  It’s simple.  It lacks ambiguity.  And it’s fun to say, “Let’s meet at Echo”.  Try it on a friend, and see what I mean.

Support From Unexpected Sources

May 14, 2010

In my previous life as a REALTOR, cooperation was key.  In fact, back in 2008 on my real estate blog, I wrote about the importance of cooperation as a success criteria for a real estate agent.  While every real estate agent is essentially a small independent company, competing against every other agent, to succeed (and thus earn a living) cooperation amongst agents is essential.

As I embarked on my new career in the coffee business, a trend established, which I never, ever expected, but am indefinitely thankful for: Independent coffee shop owners are extremely willing to support each other.

You can see some evidence of this support scattered around the comments on this blog, but honestly, a comment is an easy thing.  The owners of these shops have literally taken time from their day, driven across town to Echo Coffee in Scottsdale, and spent an hour or three here talking coffee and sharing secrets that have made them successful in their local market.  I’m stunned by the free exchange of information and sincere offers to help.

So to get to the point of this post, I want to personally thank Ron Cortez of Cortez Coffee, Mike Funk of Firecreek Coffee, Joe Johnston and David and Kiersten Traina of Liberty Market, Steve Kraus of Press Coffee, Jared of Sola Coffee, Jen and Brian of Cartel Coffee Lab, Steven of Steve’s Espresso, and Chad of Solo Coffee.

Each of these owners have taken time out of their busy schedules to help make Echo Coffee a better place.  Each has offered to help in the future in any way reasonable, and for that I am grateful.  I strongly believe that independent coffee shops in the Phoenix area can only benefit by supporting each other, and am extremely pleased to find so many like minded owners.  I know there are many more independent coffee shops throughout the valley that feel the same way, and am excited about the opportunity in the future to reach out to them.

Again, thank you.

Looking back at the first two weeks

May 10, 2010

Echo Coffee in Scottsdale at night I wanted to share some insights into how things have transpired through our first two weeks as an open and operating coffee shop.  I had aspirations of providing these types of updates far more frequently, but those dreams have been dashed by the sheer quantity of work I leave for myself to do.

As I mentioned in the Start Line post, Friday, April 23 was a pivotal day.  The building inspection presented a couple of problems, most notably with the specific location of the women’s bathroom sign (we are now required to hang that sign on the mop room door, which is very confusing for the sighted, but apparently where a blind person would expect it).  With the sign location fixed, we received our Certificate of Occupancy at approximately 10:30am Friday.  At 11:00am the health inspector arrived, and while there were 2 minor corrections she would like to see, she was a pleasure to work with and happily printed up the report that allowed us to open our doors to the public.

A quick run to the store to get milk (the health inspector wouldn’t allow any perishable food in the shop until after the inspection was complete), and we were suddenly open for business right on time (ha!) at around noon on Friday.  The service counter wasn’t even cleared of tool bags, but we were pouring our first drip coffees for everyone in the store (namely our staff and contractors).

It seemed like we were only “open” a few minutes when our first customer came through the door.  On the spot I decided we were certainly too rough around the edges to charge full price for our drinks, and simply gave away every drink at no cost on Friday.   I wanted to start serving customers right away, but charging them for something when we were so slow and inefficient seemed wrong.  As luck would have it, it seemed every new customer wanted a new menu item that required us to find a missing component in the back that had yet to be stocked.  We were horribly disorganized this first day, but fortunately our first customers were very understanding (and free certainly didn’t hurt).

Saturday morning, I once again made a snap decision and decided that although things had improved a bit, there was still too much to improve and set the price of our entire menu at $1 an item.  Given the Point of Sale system had not yet been fully programmed, charging $1 for everything made it quick and efficient at the register, and once again put smiles on the faces of our newest customers.

Sunday afternoon came one of the better surprises of the weekend.  A customer that had visited Saturday had taken one of our menus home, redesigned the menu on his Mac, and brought it back in for me to see.  It was AMAZING.  I was stunned by what he had done.  Best of all, he offered it to me with no obligation.  He was simply happy that Echo Coffee was now available to him, and presented it as a welcome to the neighborhood gift.  To J, again, my thanks.

The first half of the first week we were a bit busier than I expected, which was certainly a welcome surprise, but not super busy by any stretch.  I used these days to finish moving into the shop, train, familiarize, and generally settle in, while attempting to meet as many new customers in person as possible.  The majority of customers commented that they had seen the building go up and then sit vacant and were just hoping something cool would be built.  They all seemed very excited that we were a local, independent coffee shop in south Scottsdale.

We received our first meat, bread, and cheese shipment on Monday, which enabled us to begin lunch service on Tuesday.  On Tuesday, I was also interviewed by a reporter from the Arizona Republic.  The resulting story ran in the Scottsdale Republic section of the AZ Republic on Thursday and featured Echo Coffee in a favorable light.  That Thursday we did triple the business of the day before, literally selling out our entire lunch menu.  Business has been quite healthy ever since.  As I write this post, nearly two weeks later, people still occasionally mention that they saw Echo Coffee in the paper and that’s why they are visiting.

The next day (Friday), I realized we were woefully understaffed, and insta-hired two more baristas, one of which came in and started working the very next morning.  Completely gone were my personal fears that I would sit in the store alone for weeks, wondering if a customer would ever walk through the door.  Now my worries could properly focus on providing the best possible customer experience.

This last weekend we had our Grand Opening event.  Once again the drink menu was set to $1 / item.  Most customers throughout the weekend had no idea it was our Grand Opening, since they were “regulars” by now, but it was fun just the same.  Many people won free Echo Coffee T-Shirts, and most walked away with a card for a free drink on their next visit.

Throughout these two weeks, I’ve focused as much as possible on improving consistency and efficiency.  We pour our drip coffees much faster now.  We deal with a line of customers much more smoothly.  We have processes in place to eliminate serving an order to the wrong customer.  And best of all, the staff gets along amazingly well.  A happy staff radiates outward a positive energy — something I saw in the smiles of so many of our customers this morning as they started their week at Echo Coffee.

Grand Opening

May 7, 2010

Our Grand Opening event will be this weekend, May 8th and May 9th from open to close (7am – 10pm).  Throughout the weekend we will offer all of our espresso bar drinks (teas, coffees, espressos) for $1 each.

We have a number of secret surprises planned for your visit, but we are keeping them under wraps.   Think of them like foursquare badges…you’ll never know what it takes to unlock a secret surprise.

See you in the shop.

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, I’m very tired, but at the same time, I’m quite excited.

As a quick status update, we just missed getting our Certificate of Occupancy today.  There were two very minor problems: the building’s 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).  That’s 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 didn’t 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, we’ve 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 it’s 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, we’ll offer a limited menu, consisting of coffees, teas, bottled drinks, and a few fresh baked pastries.  As the sandwich and salad items get perfected, we’ll add each of them over the course of the next week or two.  In getting to this point, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed sampling various meats, cheeses, and breads.  We think we’ve lined up some absolutely amazing suppliers for all of the items on our menu, and we can’t 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 tomorrow’s 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 won’t 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 contractor’s party on Wednesday night, giving us a chance to thank all of the contractor’s 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 owner’s friends and family night.

I’m tired.  I’m excited.  I’m 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 we’ve 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 wasn’t 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 don’t 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 wasn’t 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 don’t 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 it’s annoying that I wasn’t 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 haven’t been seen, and we don’t 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 wasn’t there at the time of the inspection, so I don’t understand the issue with the prep sink.  Sadly, this type of delay has happened frequently when I can’t be there at a critical decision point.  I’m 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 I’m 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, that’s 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 didn’t 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 that’s when it became evident several things were amiss.
  • The ceiling design originally included a “cloud” treatment from the architect.  I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 won’t impact our ability to get CofO).

I’m 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, I’m 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 can’t quite say “no matter what”, as the health department isn’t 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.  It’s soon…very soon.

Photo Credit: wwarby

Now Hiring at Echo Coffee

March 29, 2010


Have a passion for great coffee and food?

Echo Coffee is looking to fill all positions opening Mid April for all shifts (7a -10p).

Pastry Chef/Cooks

    Employment will be contingent upon successfully passing of a criminal back ground check and drug test.

    Send your resume and cover letter to info at echocoffee dot com. Feel free to call 480-422-4081 with questions.

    Applicants are strongly encouraged to read this blog (, and become familiar with our business philosophy.

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