Hi Square Sellers! This week's interview is with Scott Carey of Sump Coffee. He talks about his ownership journey, new service strategies during Covid-19, and the opportunities that lie ahead.
Tell us about your business.
My partner and I were living in NY, and I was coming back to St. Louis to take care of my brother who was ill. I was an IP attorney and my partner was working for a large video game company. We decided to stay and open a cafe. We wanted to bring the specialty coffee experience we knew from New York to this city which at the time was missing in this market.
We opened Dec 1, 2011. We’re able to buy the building inexpensively and create a retail experience and an apt above for us to live in. We did most of the labor ourselves including replacing our main sewer line which wasn’t fun. We didn’t have a business plan. We basically packed our parachutes after we jumped out of the plane. Neither of us had ever worked in hospitality. We knew nothing about roasting coffee, nothing about making espresso drinks.
Pocketful of Square Readers
We opened as cash only, we saw it work in New York at a ramen shop or for a slice of pizza so thought we’d try it. We noticed right away people in line would say they’d be right back but never return. So we knew we had a problem. About a month after we opened, Jack’s (Dorsey) dad started coming in almost everyday to get a cappuccino. He always had a pocketful of the first little Square readers. He was just a proud parent and so we tried it and it worked.
Eventually we got the full system once it came out because we’d just been working on a push-button cash register. I think food trucks in St. Louis were the first to use Square but we jumped in very early as a shop. We had to explain to everyone how to swipe and back then signing with your finger was a new thing.
Coffee Roasting + Cold Brew
As I mentioned I had zero idea how to roast coffee when we opened. I have a Master’s Degree in chemistry so I’m pretty good about keeping thorough notes and leaving plenty of breadcrumbs to figure out how to improve and refine the process. We’ve been able to slowly develop our own voice. Relatively speaking to the big players we’re fairly small production, about 50,000lbs a year. Early on, I just had a small batch roaster. It allowed me to iterate quickly since it only had a 2.5KB (5.5lb) capacity. We eventually graduated up to a 25lb roaster.
We began canning our cold brew and we’re just now gaining some good traction with distribution. It’s scalable so it’s something we’ll definitely be leaning into especially given the new landscape.
We opened a shop in Nashville in September of 2017. We were approached by a developer that was recruiting a local restaurant (Gerald Craft’s delicious Pastaria) They were sourcing anchor tenants for a multi-use property. It’s a growing city with a lot of energy and the lease was attractive. We’re using the Square online store there as well to do curbside pick-up. It’s facing a green open space so it’s more like parkside pick-up. Customers pre-order and we set it out on a table. It’s enough to keep the lights on and maintain the business.
We are using a Square online store for the St. Louis shop as well and we’re open 4 days a week. No one is allowed in the store. Customers pre-order and when they arrive they text from their car and we start the drinks. We then bring them out wearing masks and gloves. We’re thinking a lot about what curbside service will look like long term because it seems like some guests will want some version of it. We still need to refine the end to end experience.
We’re thinking about a kiosk or mobile cart that doesn’t require contact and the order has been paid for in advance. That will simplify the transaction and contact points for the barista. It allows for less staff which might be helpful if sales levels are a bit softer with a slow recovery. It also minimizes cash transactions which feel less safe for our staff now because of Covid-19.
We’ve added new products to the online store. Categories that make sense for us like cartons of Oatly, local dairy from Ozark Creamery, and we’re bringing on some cheese selections.
Customers are learning new behaviors and we are trying to lower the barriers to these new ways of doing business in terms of service and pick up so it can be more seamless. I think in the future even customers that do come into the shop may want to be able to complete the transaction ahead of time. They would do it on their phone right before walking in or once a few minutes away.
The Future: Coffee Omakase
I’m thinking about doing an omakase format with pre-sold tickets and a seating that would include our coffee prepared 6 different ways, including some frozen versions, sweet and savory. We serve the guests along the banquet and talk about the coffee. It would be a very personal experience.
This is a forced opportunity to re-evaluate the business and reimagine our brand. We’re looking at it from both a market and customer perspective but also for what adjustments will make this more enjoyable, and bring more life balance.
Thank you Scott! Great to chat.