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grouper (39/123)

  1. Yeah, it's a silly idea, Pat. Likely beyond unrealistic, but yet it seems that it would help address some of the issues at hand. More thoughts: The fact is, there are realities when it comes to opening a brick-and-mortar "inline" food-business. A location on a block (of the sort where a food truck would want to be) will cost anywhere between $40-90 per square foot (per year), which for a smallish lunch place of 600-1200 square feet, means anywhere from $2000-$9000 per month, or $24K-$108K per year, just for rent. Startup costs? At least $100K, but usually much more. The general realities of the marketplace set the bar just high enough that the playing field is generally level. It's always a little annoying and green with envy when you find out that some guy down the street with no industry experience just opened a drool-inducing multi-million-dollar venture with daddy's poker money, but it's never more than just a little annoying. The closest thing to unfairness is what often seems like the obscenely deep pockets of national chains to sign big $$ leases and snatch up great locations. Their costs are lower, they're recognized brands, and landlords love them to death. Sometimes that big $$ buys them non-compete clauses in their lease contracts that forbids that landlord from leasing on that block to anyone offering anything remotely resembling their own offerings (Starbucks comes to my mind, but for somewhat obvious reasons). But even then, if I'm offering real quality of service and product, the presence of chains shouldn't bug me too much. You do, however, hear the consumer-base, especially in DC, bemoaning the proliferation of chain-businesses all the time. This sentiment is clearly related to the Twitterati's vocal support of the food truck trend. I generally try to be a moderate and a realist, so I'll never claim that all independent food brick-and-mortars will be automatically driven out of business by food trucks run amok. However, it's the independent small-businesses who would be most affected by food truck proliferation, unless the appropriate steps are taken by the District and the food truck operators. The chains would, for many reasons, experience a smaller overall impact. Regulations are never fun, but the fact is, there's come this trend: All of a sudden, you can open a food business at less than 1/4th the initial cost, pay zero rent (though I guess they have to keep the meter fed?), and if you don't like the location, you can pick up and roll your operation across town to a better one... often near or in front of a "competitor" business. The game is changed. In some ways for the better, in other ways, not so much. Snarky commenters have attacked the pro-inline-business folks, saying that New York City and Los Angeles have booming food-truck scenes without the backlash (as far as we know) and without catastrophic outcomes. The simple fact is, you can't compare NYC and LA to DC. The geography, population-density, economic development landscape, and retail footprint of Our Nation's Capital make comparisons absolutely inapplicable. That's what inspired my beyond-idealistic "DC-MD-VA" zone idea. Alas. Certainly an interesting microcosm of the realities of politics. Both sides have good points. Both sides are self-interested. The most self-interested of all, is the electorate... I mean, the consumer base. People want choice. More choices. At least people think they do. Regulations might not be fun, but no regulations, while they might be fun for a short time, might prove much less fun than the consumers predicted or intended. If only we had some example where the economy was harmed by a lack of regulation on a new and innovative business concept... if only!!! Anyway, just some thoughts. To be honest, I've been mulling over the idea of opening a coffee-truck as an interim step to our new (inline) coffeebar, so this issue is more than interesting to me. Still mulling. (Only because I'm sure someone will mention it if I don't: Yes, I withheld comment on the sales tax topic... and by no means am I trying to be glib about that.)
  2. Iced coffee is an interesting beast. As with most things coffee-related, there are a couple different 'versions' of ice(d) coffee out there. 1) low acidity, "smooth," deep-flavored 2) pleasantly bright (acidity), refreshing, crisp The "low acidity" iced coffee fans employ various cold or room-temperature water brewing techniques. Toddy is one. There are Japanese iced-coffee brewing devices that are slowly growing in popularity out there. The idea is that if "normal" coffee brewing takes 3-5 minutes at 195-205ºF, you can brew for 12 hours at room temperature or lower. Coffee sous vide, anyone? When brewed this way, the coffee tastes markedly different from its hot-water brewed iteration. If you use the illustration of bass-middle-treble as in audio, you get lots of bass and some middle and no treble. Whatever "high notes" or acidity/brightness there was in the coffee, you're unlikely to find it in this style of iced coffee. Brewed correctly, there's an almost rum-like flavor that develops. The second style of iced coffee is best achieved by brewing coffee double-strength (same amount of water, double the amount of coffee grounds), directly onto ice or poured slowly over ice immediately after brewing. There are specific flavor-acids in the coffee that will de-esterify into less palatable components if the hot coffee is kept hot for too long, which is why holding hot coffee for over 30-60 minutes is never preferred. The strong-hot-coffee-chilled method best preserves the acidity and balance in exemplary coffee by capturing the more volatile flavors and capturing them by chilling. French press is a great and easy way to make this style iced coffee: brew double strength and then pour over a healthy quantity of ice. If you shoot for a 1:1 ratio coffee-to-ice, you'll end up with chilled beverage that you can then put in the fridge and pour into a glass of ice. As with all coffee-brewing, while it's not rocket-science, you've got to get the variables right to really extract the coffee in the most pleasant-tasting way. For the record, I'm not a fan of the cold-brewed method. I don't find that it does much to highlight the flavors that make different coffees unique. However, the second (hot-brewed-chilled) method does lend itself to bright and balanced coffees, like Latin American washed coffees and Ethiopian Yirgacheffes. Brewed well, it's my favorite daytime cold beverage. Hope this helps! (P.S., contrary to certain reports, I love iced coffee!)
  3. As a Korean-American guy, I've had the experience of sharing one of my childhood favorites with non-Korean friends who pretty much had to spit it out at the worst, stated their dislike at the least. Hwe-neng-myun (neng-myun in general) is definitely on the "not for everyone" list. It was extremely upsetting to see people hating something that you love so much, so I can relate to the server for being apprehensive, even overly so. Glad y'all enjoyed it though. As for the food quality discussion, I won't speak for any other cuisine, but on the most part, when it comes to Korean food like kimchi, pa-jun, etc., I'd say the same thing about it as I would about coffee: people tend to be more forgiving about how they taste because it's foreign (Korean food) or commonly bitter and/or muddy (coffee). The fact is, they can and should taste good and balanced. Keep an open mind, but trust your taste buds. You don't have to be born Korean to know when kimchi is awesome.
  4. As the chairman of the United States Barista Championship, Board member of the World Barista Championship, and a cardholding member of the Barista Guild of America (of which I'm a former executive council member), you'll understand when I say that it CAN BE a skilled craft, whether you're convinced of it or not. The function of a coffee-server is most often an unskilled position that has more to do with fast food than anything most would consider a craft. However, the craft does exist and is a growing phenomenon that, thanks to new shops like Mid City Caffe, is helping elevate DC's coffee experience beyond the push-button-automatic-grande-skim-vanilla-latte.
  5. One of the little-known facts* about Starbucks that very few people know (even within the professional specialty coffee populace) is that if Starbucks didn't roast their own coffee, they wouldn't be profitable. Knowing approximately what Starbucks then pays for their green coffee, if you do the math, for an independent coffee shop that buys high-quality whole-bean roasted coffee at typical wholesale prices, they can't possibly compete with Starbucks on price. That said, even Starbucks doesn't (generally) do free refills, and the only normal discount is for re-using a cup or supplying your own. This DR thread finally got me to take a trip to visit the fine folks at Mid City today. Owner Mick has a wonderful staff over there, who along with super-star manager Judith, is doing a great job of presenting the coffees. You'll notice that shops like Mid City are displaying a relevant trend: moving away from large-volume batch coffee brewing (1 gallon or more) in favor of using a by-the-cup brew bar and a french-press-ready-to-serve service. This all goes hand-in-hand with not only the economic realities of running a shop, but a commitment to top quality in the cup for every customer to enjoy! All said, when it comes to different coffees, coffeeshops, baristas, etc., I always remember what a wine podcast host used to end his shows with: "Drink what you like, and keep trying new things." (*-3rd hand, but from a reliable source who heard it directly from a company executive)
  6. 1) It's "Mid City Caffe" 2) It's "Counter Culture Coffee" 3) Some of the best quality coffee available in the country... isn't going to cost the same as at your local Dunkin' or even Starbucks. Mid City is paying more than 6x what Starbucks does for their whole bean coffee. You don't think they'll need to charge a little bit more? 4) When's the last time you got a discount for a craft microbrew beer, or a nice glass of wine... refill or not? 5) How many outlets does one person need? Mid City, from day one, is among one of the best coffee shops in the city. Their commitment to quality and training of their baristas results in great coffee that may command a higher-than-average price. I totally understand that the bottomless-cup tradition leads you to some of the assumptions you've made, but please understand: that's all based on a completely unsustainable economic model, even more so when compared with the Direct Trade sourcing model that Counter Culture employs in importing green coffee. There's true value in what Mid City Caffe is doing. Don't compare apples to oranges.
  7. I hear ya. Sorry for the somewhat knee-jerk reaction. The (semi-funny) thing is, we're not technically in Chinatown. The "Chinatown Overlay District" that dcs points out actually ends at 5th St. NW., about 50 feet from where our shop is.
  8. Just a quick FYI, and a little DR.com scoop. Ya heard it here first: the shop will be called "Chinatown Coffee Company" (go figure), and we're planning a June opening. You can indeed see the building here (old website revised a bit). Working with some new partners, we're excited to bring our coffee service to the neighborhood. Went with "Chinatown Coffee" in direct contrast to the general trend in the neighborhood toward very un-Chinatown-y chains and such. Most of the baristas from murky coffee arlington are making the move with us. No. As a matter of fact, I'm not Chinese. Feedback/comment from the neighborhood folks is definitely welcome either in this thread or via PM. "Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters" will be a separate venture that we're working on. Hope to have some developments on that soon. Could come with some interesting surprises. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
  9. I'm not Batman, but I'll bite. Our lease expired last year, and the landlord (who had inherited the property from her father) sold the property to someone else. We had a fairly sweet deal before, and the new landlord was asking for just shy of triple what we were paying before, in order to sign a new lease. So instead of "bad model," how about the wrong model for the space we were in? 3500-ish sq ft is way too much for my sort of model (quality-focused coffee focus). I could go on, but suffice it to say, something around 1500 sq ft is a more optimal setting for what we do. Thanks for the concerned words though.
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