Friday, September 26, 2008


America is sinking.

Late August is traditionally a slow down for business as everyone and their mother heads off to the beach or some other vacation spot in a last-minute desperate attempt to savor and save their summer. It's normal. As we approached the middle of August, I scaled back the orders from our vendors with the intent of returning to normal volumes after the first weekend in September.

It's nearly the end of the month and our ordering levels have not returned to pre-August numbers.

Is the falling American economy starting to impact? I'm hesitant to say 'yes' but can't help but to feel it in my bones. And with the downturn in the economy, is this the wrong time to start new ventures? Isn't this the time to pull back and shore up defenses? Or is this the time to push forward and expand?

That's the issue I've been wrestling with this week.

Since mid-summer, I've been considering a space downtown for a second coffee shop. It's in an old, stone building and up a flight of stairs from one of the busiest streets (in terms of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic) in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. At 900 square feet, it's got some character and I think could turn into a very cool coffee and food experience and be a place where we really can get down to experimentation and exploring coffee and cuisine.

Granted, foot traffic isn't like Washington D.C.'s Eastern Market or San Francisco's Mission or Portland's Belmont, but it's gotta be one of Baltimore's busiest neighborhoods in terms of foot traffic - and I've been observing it at all times of the day and night. There's an equal footprint of floor space underneath the shop space for storage or development and the building also has nice apartments that I can rent to use as lab space slash crash space.

A number of my friends who are familiar with the space think it's a great space for a coffee shop. The problem is that some of my closest friends who are business owners, bar owners and restauranteurs are either lukewarm about the space or totally against it. I'm worried that perhaps I've spent all this time thinking about the space that I've lost perspective on its' suitability. Plus, the falling American economy is starting to worry.

All of which is coming to a head because the land lord called me earlier this week stating that he did his research into me and wants my group to be the tenant in the space. $1600 a month for 900 square feet. Plus the cost of building out the space, equipping it, stocking inventory and training new baristas and cooks. It's a daunting task for a space that some of my close friends are telling me that it isn't worth it.

When it rains, it pours.

Then there's the other offer - another restauranteur I know has offered me to take over part of one of his restaurants on weekends and offer Filipino food. A friend of mine is a great cook and is interested to break off from what he's doing now and give it a go. In reality, the financial downside of this venture is quite low. The restaurant is already fully equipped, they just need more business. There's a growing number of Filipinos in the area that need a place to eat and it could be a good way for us to hone our restaurant chops with almost no investment.

It won't be fine dining but it might be a way for us to play and experiment with traditional Filipino classics - something I've been thinking about for quite some time now because I've convinced myself that there's a way to marry sous vide and Kare Kare.

All week long, I've been pondering the possibilities and trying to figure out what to do. I'm not worried about the coffee end of the coffee shop. We make beautiful coffee and I'm excited at the prospect of training new baristas and introducing our flavor of coffee to a new neighborhood. But is it the "right" space for the project? Have I been seduced by the idea of opening a new space? Seduced by the idea of building a lab? Seduced by the lure of a new Pad For Seduction? I can't say that I haven't been seduced and that I'm looking at the whole thing with perspective, and that scares me. No one wants to sink tens of thousands of dollars into a place just to have it make ends meet.

Much to think about this weekend. I have to make a decision by the end of the month.