When I was laid off from my corporate job more than two decades ago, I knew I had little time to figure out how to support myself. Throughout the many interviews and resume submissions, I allowed myself one weekly indulgence—a mocha grande from my neighborhood drive-thru coffee stand outside Seattle. It was a weekly luxury that energized me into exploring a completely different business that I was growing to love: espresso on the go.

A few months after sharing this idea with my family, they surprised me with a kiosk right in the front yard. That little kiosk later went on to be the first official Gourmet Latte in Lynnwood, Washington. Growing Gourmet Latte has been my dream come true, but the journey had a steep learning curve. Along the way, I’ve learned some key tips and strategies for anyone looking to turn their own ideas into a thriving business.

Lesson No. 1: It starts with the beans

Just because a concept has a drive thru, doesn’t mean customers get a subpar experience. At Gourmet Latte, we’re all about the coffee—in both taste and service. When it comes to taste, we use only the highest quality ingredients for our espresso drinks, frappes, and smoothies. In terms of service, we’ve streamlined our operations, enabling the team to focus on customers and growth instead of getting bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae.

Quality is the secret behind a business’s success. What makes an experience exceptional is when quality is prioritized and customers know they can count on consistently delicious food and great people to serve them.

Lesson No. 2: Make sure you have a clean filter

It’s easy enough to say that organization and time management are crucial aspects of running a business, but expanding those processes is a whole other story. When we first started expanding Gourmet Latte, I noticed a few issues arise, the first being an increased need for people management, which translated into a great deal of paperwork and less time to focus on what matters. On top of that, the nature of this business includes high turnover with many seasonal or student employees. These problems are commonplace for small businesses, and owners will agree that the brunt falls on them.

To facilitate organization and reduce busywork, I use technology tools that streamline backend processes. I started using software called Zenefits to automate onboarding/offboarding and manage benefits administration and COBRA. To keep myself organized, I also use cloud-based organization platforms like Dropbox and Google Drive, which allow me to easily access and share files across my business.

Finding the right tech tools can help owners be more organized and stay focused on running and growing their businesses.

Lesson No. 3: Brew, froth, and serve

A restaurant’s growth strategy should be as thoughtful and deliberate as the rest of the business. At Gourmet Coffee, we’ve made a conscious choice to expand slowly and ensure each location fits our criteria. Customer requirements can vary dramatically by location. Our first store was very successful, but when we opened the second we were competing against many at-home coffee drinkers.

It was a lesson in understanding customers’ particular brew preferences, and we took on a mentality that a business shouldn’t expand just because it can; it must first ensure the model and product are the right fit for the specific customer base it serves. This method of slow yet strategic growth impacts the overall longevity and success of the business.

High-quality, delicious menu offerings, internal organization, and strategic growth can take a restaurant far. As a company expands and serves more customers, it’s important to keep these things in mind. Building a business requires grit and determination. It comes with its fair share of challenges, but in the end, it can be a dream-come-true. It was for me, and it all started with a mocha!

Karissa Bresheare is the founder and president of Gourmet Latte Inc. Since opening her first coffee stand in 1995 after training to be a barista at Caffe D'Arte, Bresheare has grown her Washington-based business to include 134 employees and 16 locations.
Outside Insights, Story