Portrait of a Coffee Shop Entrepreneur

Coffee Shops: the creative hubs for colleges and cities all across America. We often sit inside them working diligently or engrossing ourselves in conversation, but how often do we think about what it takes to run an actual coffee business?

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Louie Corwin, the 26 year old owner and founder of recently opened Dallas craft coffee shop, Method: Caffeination and Fare. Not only does this shop offer some of the best espresso I’ve ever tasted, but its modern decor and unique, friendly atmosphere make for a fantastic customer experience. His new business embodies the recent shift in Dallas’ coffee shop modality to one that more closely resembles that of San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle.

More than just a coffee aficionado, Corwin is an entrepreneur.

After speaking with him briefly, it was clear that this is not his first entrepreneurial venture nor is it his last. I conversed with him further about his path through life that led to the road of coffee shop entrepreneurship and the lessons he’s learned along the way.

Tell me about yourself.

My name is Louie. I’m 26. I’m from Rockwall, Texas so I’ve been around Dallas my whole life. Avid cyclist. I’ve kind of always done individualized sports— I did motocross, skydiving, triathlons, and now cycling. I haven’t typically liked team sports; that’s not how my brain works. I started my first business at 17— I’m an entrepreneur at heart.

Tell me about your first business.

My first company was a courier service. I got business cards printed out from Office Max and went out knocking on doors. There was zero cost behind it. I spent a little money on the cards and a little money on the magnets and the gas that it took for me to go out and solicit business. So it was super low risk, which was perfect for a 17 year old because they just don’t know how to manage risk. I did that, and I got one big client, and they were a title company, and they used me at least once a day. I was also, for the last couple years of high school, finishing up homeschooling. So I was at home and I had a lot of free time, so I just had to have a job to keep myself busy. It was kind of fun just being out there, doing something on my own, being my own boss.

What was the impetus for you to start that first courier service business?

My dad owns his own business as well. And he’s been doing it on his own since I was 13-14 years old. And that was just interesting— He got to be at home. He’d come home at 10 o’clock in the morning and take a nap. And then he’d go back to work. He always had cool toys and a great life growing up; it was very inspiring from a financial aspect. Like man— he works somewhat, but he gets to play alot. But I never saw the actual, real balance growing up.

What’s the most important thing to think about when starting your own business?

Coming face to face with financial reality. You can’t lie to yourself at that point. You can’t lie to yourself about your bills, about your debt, about what you like spending money on. You have to answer that stuff at just the deepest, most truthful level that you can because when you own your own business and you have to structure your finances, you need to have a realistic financial timeline.

Otherwise, if you aren’t as successful as you predict, you’ll eat through all your savings and never be able to start paying yourself. If you aren’t completely honest with yourself, you become much more vulnerable to failure. Don’t let your passion blind you to the realities of what this thing takes. You have to put all of those emotions on hold and say: have I looked at this truthfully as far as budget goes? Because money’s going in and money’s going out every day and at the end of it, if your month’s longer than your money, then it can be bad.

Tell me about the path that led you to the the coffee shop business.

Three and a half years ago, I was a barista at the Pearl Cup (another local Dallas coffee shop) making minimum wage, which at the time was $7.50. I worked there for 8 months, and actually I left to start my second business. I’d just turned 23, and I started my irrigation company because I had knowledge in it, I had a license, and all I needed was clients. It was very low cost because I already had the tools so it was an easy transition.

But I left Pearl cup to go do the irrigation thing so that I could eventually open a coffee shop. Those were my exact words; that’s what I told people. That was three years ago. It took me three years to talk about and build it up and finally get it done.

What other steps did you take before going all in and opening Method?

My story is two parts— after doing the irrigation thing, I had a position as a GM opening a coffee shop/ healthy takeaway store (at local Dallas coffeehouse Origin). I came in three months before we opened so I got a lot of experience on somebody else’s dime. I learned from them. I just got to see the process. How many times have you needed to go to Dallas city permitting office down off of 35? I got to hear this from somebody else, and that was the first big help that gave me the confidence to say “Alright, all the hard stuff, all the unknowns, now I know it.”

So I got the coffee side and that experience side; now I’ve got just the logistics of how to do this because I was the GC on this project. So I got experience from them and that was great, that’s what led me down to this. I left Origin last year in June, I went on vacation for a month, cleared my head, made sure I really wanted to do it, came back, and signed the lease on August 22, 2013. I paid a year up front in rent to secure lower rates.

What advice/ knowledge would you pass on to prospective entrepreneurs?

There’s always this constant fear. You just have to be willing to face that and just keep moving forward. If you really believe that you’ve done your homework and you’ve put this whole thing together well then just know that, no matter how good or bad that plan is, that fear’s always going to exist. So you really have to learn how to cope with it because you’re creating something that relies on you, on all your power and all your knowledge, and people are trusting you with large amounts of money.

But, no matter what, if that’s what you truly want to do and that’s where you think you can learn and grow the best, as an entrepreneur, do it. Don’t hold back. You get one chance at this life, one chance at being young and working crazy hours with little sleep. We don’t get to do this forever. At some point, I will be fifty, hopefully still around, hopefully still doing business deals, but I won’t have the same energy to do the stuff like what I can do right now in my twenties. I think twenties are a good age to own a coffee shop. Always keep pressing forward because you don’t get any time back. If that’s what you want to do— you want to have something of your own— don’t stop.