Pastries. Sandwiches. Bottled water, Gourmet sodas. These are just a few of the add-on items you’d expect to see in any coffee retail shop. Several coffee retailers are now also offering beer and wine as a way to expand their businesses and attract new customers.
The idea of coffee retailers expanding into beer and wine isn’t exactly new. Starbucks rolled out its Starbucks Evenings program in 2010; the chain is now piloting the concept at 22 locations in six test markets across the country.
The Starbucks Evening menu is available at participating locations, after 4 p.m. It features a selection of wine and beer, along with several small plate snacks and desserts; Starbucks’ regular menu items are also available.
Caffe Vita, a specialty coffee chain founded in 1995 with 11 retail locations spread across Washington, California, and New York, has offered beer and wine for years. It’s been doing this for so long that head of training Ross Beamish can’t quite remember exactly when it started.
Alcoholic beverages currently make up less than 10% of Caffe Vita’s total sales, Beamish says. The company is hoping to increase that profit margin slightly with some additional in-store marketing materials to raise awareness of the alcoholic beverage options.
Each Caffe Vita location has different beer and wine offerings, which are often up to the individual store managers to select. Several cafes have beer on tap, while others offer beer by the bottle. Featuring local beers is generally the trend, along with a house red, a house white, and a prosecco. Prices generally range from $4 to $6 per beer and $7 to $8 per glass of wine.
Including beverage alcohol on the menu hasn’t greatly affected Caffe Vita’s core customer base, Beamish says. Most people enter the stores looking for coffee, not even realizing that beer and wine are available.
But when they do notice it, many of them appreciate it, he says, and it may influence their decision of what to order. Caffe Vita also sells items like flatbread sandwiches, juices, yogurt, and cookies.
“Beer is just a nice counterpoint to what coffee does,” Beamish says. “Most of our cafes are open past 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. We’re giving our customers an alternate way of relaxing and winding down.”
REBRANDING FOR BEER AND WINE
While many retailers see the addition of beer and wine as a supplement to their menus, some establishments are taking things a step further by bringing the beverage alcohol options to the forefront of the operation.
Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer was originally launched as the Kudu Coffee House. Then new owners purchased the Charleston, SC, business and rebranded the concept and reopened it in February 2010.
In addition to coffee, Kudu’s offers a broad selection of craft beers, along with a variety of wines, with prices ranging from $4 to $10. Sales of alcoholic beverages, which are available for purchase from 10 a.m. until close, currently make up 10% to 15% of the daily revenue. Additional menu offerings include sandwiches, quiche, pastries, sodas, and juices.
Kudu’s co-owner Jason Bell and his partners wanted to bring something unique to the downtown Charleston area, which caters mostly to college students, professionals, and tourists. Mixing specialty coffee with craft beer was unique to the city when Kudu’s relaunched.
“From the beginning, we’ve wanted the shop to be more than just someone’s secondary office, library, or study hall,” Bell explains. “We wanted to offer a fun, social atmosphere that would have more resemblance to a traditional pub.”
Mavelous, a San Francisco coffee and wine bar, is another cafe that specializes in coffee and alcohol. The unique interior is designed with a coffee bar on one side and a wine bar on the other, lending itself well to diverse clientele, says owner Phillip Ma.
While coffee sales make up about 70% of total sales, Ma says coffee and alcohol used to be split 50-50 until recently.That’s because more businesses have been opening in the neighborhood, bringing with them an influx of professionals who stop in during the work day, he notes.
The Mavelous wine menu rotates as often as each week. At any given time, the bar typically offers a sparkling wine, a rose, four to six reds, four whites, and three dessert wines, with prices ranging from $10 to 15 per glass. The cafe also offers a selection of 16 to 20 bottled micro-craft beers, ranging in price from $5 to $70 for an exclusive 750-ml. bottle of a Belgian brew.
Mavelous customers can also enjoy pastries, cheese plates, and crostinis with their beverages. Beer and wine are available for purchase throughout the day.
Is it challenging for coffee bar operators to master the art of wine and beer? It can be.
Because coffee shops are traditionally a small-ticket business, the addition of beer selections to the menu has increased sales volume overall, says Bell of Kudu’s. Higher sales are great, but that also means increased costs and staffing needs.
Staff education about the beverage alcohol offerings is another concern for coffee retailers. The gourmet coffee industry requires an extensive breadth of knowledge, and employees should able to talk to customers about beer and wine with the same ease they discuss coffee.
Ma says the trick to effective staff education is to hire good people and also have realistic expectations.
“Our menu isn’t so outrageous that it’s overwhelming to staff,” he explains. “I also have a wine director who organizes tastings and discussions with staff about new wines.”
It also helps quite a bit that the baristas at Mavelous love beer, Ma adds. “So they are able to pick up that knowledge easily and pretty much on their own.” ·
Melissa Niksic is a Chicago-based freelance writer.