What Space is Ready for Me? Some Thoughts on Evaluating the Interior of Possible Storefronts

What Space is Ready for Me? Some Thoughts on Evaluating the Interior of Possible Storefronts

Dec 7th 2021 Written by Steve Morrow

If money is no object, any building or lot will suffice for a coffee shop. Bring in the architect, contractor, and supplies, pay their asking price, and the place will be ready in a year. But for most of us money is an object, a very important object, one that needs to be doled out sparingly, especially during the touch-and-go financial times before the business is up and running. Before, in other words, income.

In the past we have made videos about the requirements for installing equipment like espresso machines and specialized brewing towers. In those videos we indirectly mention the electrical and plumbing requirements. We also mention that if any of those requirements aren’t in place when the service tech arrives to install the equipment, you will face extra service charges in addition to those associated with the tech’s time. The basic idea is that you will need to have the plumbing and electrical running to the service area—the area where the machines will be installed—before the tech arrives. Those are usually taken care of by certified plumbers and electricians during the buildout, if there was a buildout, even if the buildout was in the distant past for another business.

behind the espresso bar

So what is needed? We can narrow the list to three main categories: plumbing, electric, and layout. The truth is that a coffee shop, while often romanticized as a great business to own, is, like all startups, an expensive enterprise from buildout to day one. This is just the nature of starting a business. It is exciting and the possibilities are endless (though it is, of course, best if you have narrowed the possibilities to a manageable many). Sinking into a poofy leather armchair and reading The New Yorker is great, but it is something the customers get to do, not the owners. At least at first (your time will come!). The owners have to create the right environment for customers to want to come in the first place and then to want to hang out in that chair, to want to buy coffee, maybe food, too, to want to and then actually to come back. The owner must work. And the owner must pay the bills.

Below are some things to consider as you get the process rolling. We have also made a printable checklist (download below) in case you want a reference to take with you on the road.

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  • Installing the proper plumbing for a coffee shop isn’t difficult work, but it can become costly, especially if the space is a blank canvas. It’s best to get a quote from a licensed plumber before signing a lease.
  • The most important plumbing is that which is associated with the business: water lines and a floor drain for all water-dependent equipment (espresso machine, sinks, etc.)
  • Other considerations are just as important for being open and up to code, such as a sprinkler system, grease trap, and bathrooms, all of which are tied to the local code.
  • If the building is particularly old, the plumbing may not have sufficient pressure for the pumps to work properly, and workarounds may need to be installed.


  • Electric upgrades and installations are similarly not difficult for a licensed electrician to handle, but some money can be saved by finding a space with the proper panel and outlets already in place.
  • The espresso machine, batch brewer, and hot water tower likely have a 220v plug and need to be connected directly to a 220 outlet. As such, a 220 outlet must be close to these pieces of equipment, which should not be connected through an extension cord.
  • Other pieces of equipment, such as the ice machine, grinders, blenders, etc., must have 120v outlets nearby.
  • In an old or ill-suited building, a subpanel may need to be installed and connected to the main panel to accommodate all the power pulled from the equipment. In any of these cases, the electrician’s time is going to be the major expense.

Square Feet and Layout

  • Each coffee shop is going to be different, but that doesn’t mean that any space will work for a coffee shop.
  • A takeout window just needs enough space for the equipment and ideally a restroom for staff.
  • A sit-down shop, on the other hand, needs room for seating, possibly even divided into tables and chairs and couches, a kitchen, and restrooms for customers.
  • According to ADA, there needs to be a specified space between tables to allow for wheelchairs to pass; a specified height for tables; a specified width and ramp for entrances; and possibly a specified square footage for bathrooms.
  • installing an espresso machine

    The gist is this: for every imperfection, every aspect of the space you want to modify, there is a cost attached. The question is: Can you afford it? You must know your budget before you get locked into a lease. Better yet, you must know what you absolutely cannot live without before signing the lease. Plumbing, Electric, and Layout are three things you should think deeply about before driving around town looking at spaces. Finding a location, something we have written about before, is the first step in the arduous process of getting a coffee shop up and running. But the next step is to look at the inside of the building, what is often referred to as its bones. Your budget will dictate what you must find in there. For a lot of startups, plumbing and electrical must be in place; those things are just too expensive to run or re-route. You can work with the landlord on costs, but that is not a guarantee. Take this checklist with you when you evaluate spaces so you know what to look for. Don’t get locked into a financial strain.

    If you'd like further assistance in planning your coffee shop, we'd love to help! Feel free to reach out to our commerical services team, and be sure to join the Prima Coffee Community Industry Pro Space for additional resources and join the conversation with other industry professionals.

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    Dec 7th 2021 Steve Morrow

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