From Lattes to Websites: The Players

For those of you who don’t know, when I was in my senior year of college, I wrote my honors thesis on the coffee industry in Austin.

Wait, what?

Oh, yeah. I spent an entire semester writing a seventy-six page paper all on the coffee industry in Austin. In other words, my love for coffee is so immense that it can be considered academic.

That being said, a quick read-through of my paper (because reading through seventy-six pages of market research and analysis is totally a quick read) has revealed that my paper is severely, even embarrassingly, out-of-date.

So I’m going to update it. Or at least as much as I can without access to the many market reports and research tools that I had access to as a college student. So take this with a grain of salt (or a shot of espresso or whatever).

The first topic to update: The players of the game.

When I submitted my thesis topic for approval, I had a very specific goal in mind for how I wanted the paper to look. I wanted it to mimic the format of my strategic management papers, which were very structured and short case analyses that discussed items such as current market conditions, critical business challenges, strategic solutions and alternatives as well as future actions and controls.

Why I wanted to do this, I have no idea as my strategic management class could only be described as traumatic, but I figured such a paper format would be the best in discussing what made a coffee shop successful or not in Austin. My plan was to complete a case analysis for each coffee shop and then join it together to make one large-ass thesis.

There were a couple of issues with my approach though: I had no time, and I had even less money. As a self-supporting college student, in addition to taking a full course load, I was working two part-time jobs to make ends meet. I was also trying to revamp an innovators club at my college (you know, to pad my resume) in addition to being greatly involved with my church. I had no car either and relied on Austin’s very iffy public transportation system to get to and from school. By the time I graduated, I had added an internship to my schedule and was on the verge of a mental breakdown.

It became clear very quickly that I was going to have to limit the number of shops for which I completed an analysis if I was going to survive the semester. There were several coffee shops popping up around Austin in 2010, but there was just no way I could visit all of them or afford to at the time. So I picked a few key players which I felt were a good representation of all the shops in Austin and focused on creating detailed and thorough analyses on them. The shops I chose were: Starbucks (as a control), Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, Jo’s Hot Coffee, Texenza Coffee, Spider House Cafe, and Ruta Maya.

Which is absolutely hilarious the more I think about it.

First of all, Texenza no longer exists. All locations went out of business within a couple of years of me graduating, and it’s like they never existed in the first place. Jo’s took over the location on St. Edward’s campus, and Austin Java took over the location on 360. The location over on Brodie has hosted a variety of cafes and is now a JuiceLand. Granted, in my paper, I did say they wouldn’t survive without some changes, but I didn’t quite expect such an epic downfall.

Ruta Maya technically still exists but not in the way it did at the writing of my thesis. Except for a couple of counters and kiosks at the Austin Bergstrom Airport, their operation is now purely wholesale. The old coffee shop is permanently closed, and while the closure did come as a surprise to me, my conclusions in my thesis about the shop were similar to Texenza. It was probably a good choice to close the shop in order to keep from fully going out of business.

Mozart’s, Jo’s, and Spider House are all still open and doing well, but I wouldn’t necessarily choose them for an analysis if I did my paper today. Spider House markets itself mainly as a bar and cafe now (not a coffee shop), and Mozart’s and Jo’s, while still beloved by locals, have become major destinations for tourists and photo opportunists, which has altered the overall vibe and quality of the shops a bit. Unfortunate but true.

Considering the great number of coffee shops that have opened in Austin during the past few years though, I probably would need to structure my thesis a bit differently if I wrote it today. Instead of focusing on individual shops, the best approach would probably be to group them into categories, such as the following:

  1. Legacies – These are the coffee shops that have been in Austin for a significant period of time and are part of Austin’s culture and history. Shops that I would include in this category are, but not limited to, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, Cherrywood Coffeehouse, Epoch Coffee, and Genuine Joe Coffee House.
  2. Chains – Some coffee shops in Austin have experienced great success, and as a result, they have opened up multiple locations. Some shops that I would include in this category are Austin Java, Houndstooth Coffee, Medici, Summer Moon Coffee Bar, Jo’s Hot Coffee, and Bennu Coffee.
  3. Coffee and Beer – A new trend in town are shops that sell both uppers and downers, more specifically coffee and beer. Many of the shops mentioned in the other categories may sell both coffee and beer, but with these particular shops, it has been used as an identifying characteristic. The shops I would include in this category are Stouthaus Coffee Pub, Radio Coffee and Beer, Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, Buzzmill Coffee, and Halcyon Coffee, Bar & Lounge.
  4. Hipster Havens – These shops have a very specific style and vibe that usually involves white walls with limited decor, simple coffee menus, and dog-friendly seating. They are the ultimate stops for Instagram worthy pictures. Such coffee shops that would be included in this category are Patika, Seventh Flag Coffee, Barrett’s Coffee, Merit Coffee, and Stonehouse Coffee.
  5. Unique And On Fleek – The shops in this category don’t really fit into the other four categories, but they all have something unique to offer in the Austin market and therefore would need to be discussed in greater depth. These shops include Monkey Nest Coffee, Sa-Ten Coffee, Flat Track Coffee, Fleet Coffee Co., The Hideout Coffee House, and Lucky Lab Coffee Co.

In addition to discussing the above categories, I would probably spend some time discussing the shops that eventually did go out of business. This would include shops like Texenza, My Name is Joe Coffee, Ruckus Coffee, Apanas Coffee & Beer, and Dominican Joe Coffee Shop. Research into these shops could provide some clarity on what characteristics actually do or don’t really influence the success of a store.

Another consideration that would need to be made if I wrote the paper today is that small roasters are much more prevalent in the Austin market today. To leave roasters out of the discussion would be to ignore half of the industry.

“So then, how many roasters are there in Austin?” you ask. (Y’all ready for this?)

Well, there’s Wild Gift Coffee, Cuvee Coffee, Flat Track Coffee Co. Austin Roasting Company, Third Coast Coffee Roasting Company, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, Texas Coffee Traders, Greater Goods Coffee Roasters, Irrawady Coffee Roasters, Tiny House Coffee Roasters, Ruta Maya Coffee Company, Anderson’s Coffee Company, Barret’s Micro Roast Coffee, Progress Coffee Roasting, Kohana Coffee, Little City Coffee Roasters, Summer Moon Coffee, Casa Brasil Coffee, Civil Goat Coffee Co., Red Horn Coffee House and Brewing Co, and Praxis Coffee Roasters.

Whoo. I don’t think Austin needs to worry about running out of good coffee any time soon.

Looking at the above lists, I think it’s pretty clear that if current market conditions existed in Austin back in 2010 when I had to write my thesis paper, I would have probably lost my mind because it is so much larger and more complex. The amount of research and analysis I would have needed to complete would have been astounding and way beyond the resources that I had available to me.

Thankfully though, that was not the case, and I am at a point in my life when I actually have the time, money, and wherewithal to explore this much grander and more extensive coffee industry. I am currently trying to decide the next U.S. city to visit, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Until next time,

The one and the only Pookachino

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