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TOPIC: coffee house add-on?

coffee house add-on? 19 Oct 2004 11:06 #9980

  • leeler
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My wife and I are tossing around the idea of taking out a row or two of seats, leveling the floor, putting in coffee tables and chairs and turning it into a coffee house in the morning and a cinema at night. Has anyone ever tried that? What pitfalls am I missing?
"What a crazy business"
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Re: coffee house add-on? 20 Oct 2004 08:34 #9981

  • jimor
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Of course, your main concern is what the local codes allow, and the requirements to meet them. For example, in many areas, they require that a restaurant license be obtained and that usually requires a certain minimum in nearby preperation sinks and lavatories near the seating areas. This is often figured on a maximum distance of 'kitchen' area to serving area. For both of these areas you have to consider the ventilation costs and other fixture changes. If the local politics are on your side, and you can get all permits, then you have to figure out your likelihood of success: Are there any similar coffee shops within 10 blocks or so of yours? Is there a large office complex or university nearby that will furnish LOTS of coffee drinkers? If so, what prevents Starbucks or such from moving into your area? If you have historic or architectural concerns for the place, what will your modifications do to it in the long term? What will the presence of continuously spilled food/drinks and similar accidents do to it? If your patrons want to sit and read the papers, or do schoolwork, will you provide the higher lighting level required without too much damage to the theatre? If so, how? Is there access to the underfloor areas to allow wiring runs to the tables safely? If so, you might also include computer jacks to allow it to be a sort of 'cyber cafe', at least for those bringing their own laptops, but then how do they pay for the access? What will it cost to runa T-3 line and router into your building? A local computers store or school computer lab might want to team up with you in this aspect for the payment of advertising on your menus.

I recall the case where food was served in an adapted theatre, and they found that food and drink spilled went down the floor vents and later caused a rotting smell that was very difficult to locate and cleanse, since the plenum tunnels under an auditorium decrease in size toward the rear of an auditorium, and even if it is possible to gain access from the stage side, there often is no way to get into the rear portions of the smaller plenums. You may therefore have to seal such vents under the seats presently there, but what will that do to your overall airflow, since those vents were figured in the design? Also, how will all this change your standing vis-a-vis the fire code? Will they grandfather your place, or must you punch new doors to meet emergency exit requirements and do you have sideyards to accomodate those doors? If no grandfathering, will you be required to install fire sprinklers (very costly and damaging to ornate theatres)? If you have a large auditorium, what will be new security concerns from those who choose to wander about and perhaps get into mischief? Can you afford more security personnel (you can hardly depend upon the waitresses to chase down and tackle teens)? I know your concept sounds simple, and I hope it does succeed, but these are some details that you might want to take a hard look at first. Best Wishes, Jim
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: coffee house add-on? 20 Oct 2004 09:21 #9982

  • leeler
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Thanks, Jim

Lots of food for thought. I should have been clearer about what I'm proposing and the kind of area I'm in.

We are in a very small, quaint town in Northeast Iowa that is beginning a transition from traditional downtown establishments toward a more tourist-oriented approach. My town is the county seat of a county known as "little Switzerland" because of the extremely hilly and rugged area it is in. It has been jaw-dropping beautiful the last few weeks with the leaves changing and so forth.

In any case, it is a very small town (population about 1500). We have very few regulations and codes. I have not been visited by the fire chief or a health inspector since I've opened. No building inspections, electrical inspections, anything. As you can imagine, this has good consequences and bad. We did a good job in the redesign of the theater last year and I think the community would welcome this addition. There is no college community to draw fom, however. The aforementioned tourists and campers as well as the existing locals would provide the client base. I'm not talking about a big operation here. We're talking about taking out the last two rows of seats (and putting back one row to the front). This, therefore, shouldn't have a big impact on the theater. We'd probably add half a dozen or so small bistro-type tables and some comfy chairs. The biggest changes would be in the concession stand, I think. I'm going to relocate the pop canisters to the basement and rearrange and reorganize the rest of the concession stand to accomodate the coffee-making equipment.

I hadn't thought about some reading lights but, that would, probably be a good idea. The other concern is signage and I may have to do something under the marquee to let people know about the coffee. We probably wouldn't do the cyber-cafe but we could add a terminal and add it to our wireless network, theoretically. One thought we had was to add a relaxing scene and broadcast it through our LCD monitor onto the screen. Maybe a fireplace? Or a woodland scene? It could be cool, eh?

My heat runs are on the ceiling so I don't think I'll have to worry about coffee spilling into them (at least I hope not). I am a little concerned about spillage but not overly so (I have mopped up quite a few overturned sodas and it can't be much worse).

I guess the security concerns haven't really been addressed. We've thought of cutting a hole in the rear wall between the concession stand and the back of the auditorium to allow us to keep watch. (We'd probably have to add a curtain to draw for when we're playing movies, though).

One thing we were thinking of was how to exploit this change for when we are showing movies. There are two pizza joints within a block of the theater and we thought of creating some sort of deal where they could bring pizza in for the movie. I'm not sure how to do this without it killing my precious concession sales, though and it'll take some more thought. Any ideas?

In any case, thanks for your thoughts!
"What a crazy business"
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Re: coffee house add-on? 20 Oct 2004 11:57 #9983

  • Ken Layton
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How many cups of coffee would you need to sell each day to make this venture worth while?

You may need food handler's licenses and might have to install a 3 bay sink. Check with your local health department.
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Re: coffee house add-on? 20 Oct 2004 15:49 #9984

  • leeler
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Ken,

Thanks for your thoughts. I think it's more complex a question, though. I think there are some synergies to be gained. I think it might motivate customers to come into the theater. customers who may not have ever been before. Maybe they like what they see and want to come back for a movie that weekend. Maybe they forgot what we were playing and that jogged their memory.

I think the flip-side is possible too. Maybe one of my movie patrons see that we serve coffee and will want to come back on their way to school/work the following morning.

I think we have most of the set-up for a coffee shop already installed. We have a building with heat and air already installed. Washroom facilities, handicapped accessible. Counters, registers, insurance already paid for. Why not take the next step and have your theater making money in the morning as well as in the evening? Maybe it isn't for everyone and maybe I'm kidding myself that it'll work. but, it sounds to me like it could be the right kind of combination. I need something to help smooth out the roller coaster of a yearly business cycle.

"What a crazy business"
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Re: coffee house add-on? 21 Oct 2004 01:47 #9985

  • outaframe
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LEE, I hate to rain on your parade, but IF your town is like MOST Midwestern small towns I have seen, there is probably already a "Mom's Home Cooking" restaurant (or similar) where the downtown crowd gathers for coffee and gossip... I suspect going in competition with such a place would be an exercise in futility... I have seen several attempts to try that sort of thing go down the toilet... Just a thought...
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Re: coffee house add-on? 21 Oct 2004 08:04 #9986

  • leeler
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That's just the thing, there isn't one. Sure, there is a restaurant which serves coffee but it is just plain old restaurant coffee, nothing special. It is also on the outskirts of town. There is nothing downtown. This is a strange town in that it is very busy for its' size. Many times the streets are full. Lots of customers out there.
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Re: coffee house add-on? 21 Oct 2004 10:04 #9987

  • outaframe
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Well, that's strange, but it sounds like you have found that elusive horse of a different color... What the hell, it can't cost much and you're already there anyway, so give it a shot!... Just be sure you don't have to heat (and cool) the whole theater during "coffee house" hours...
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Re: coffee house add-on? 21 Oct 2004 10:55 #9988

  • Mike
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Most theatres do not have windows and the atmosphere is lights and color and relys on darkness. That does not mate well with coffee. It's a good idea: if the space decor works for the coffee venture.

Speaking of Iowa, I lived in Parnell with my brother (outside of Iowa City) and built grain mills all over Iowa and the midwest for a few years. I have great memories of Iowa and the great people there.

Michael Hurley
Impresario
Michael Hurley
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Re: coffee house add-on? 21 Oct 2004 13:49 #9989

  • rodeojack
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Ken L. knows about this one.
We have a '40s vintage single-screen house that has converted their lobby into a coffee house of sorts. If atmosphere and a view to the outside is important, maybe this is something worth considering?
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Re: coffee house add-on? 16 Mar 2005 07:25 #9990

  • leeler
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Well, the coffee shop has been open since early January. While it hasn't been going great guns yet it has attracted a faithful following and, I think, when the weather finally gets warmer then we may end up being busier. We will be getting a write-up in the local paper and word of mouth has been spreading well.

We decided to not take out any of our movie seating but, instead, set up tables in front of front row. We have some reading lamps down there and then cover the whole thing up with black masking fabric. You can barely tell it's there during the show. During the coffee shop hours we turn on "Good Morning America" on the LCD projector and folks come in to chat and watch.

"What a crazy business"
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