Howard gave me my first interview; he was extremely candid and spoke in a comfortable voice. Early on, as I was developing the book and getting interviews, I typically used his profile to show others what to expect. Coffee is such a familiar thing, and it is difficult to recall a time before Starbucks was a household name – but Kaldi’s predates them in St. Louis. Howard’s story illustrates how hard work and a keen perception of the marketplace can be successfully parlayed into a business.
An Excerpt from the book:
“What I was doing was not based upon business principles, but human principles”
With a background in journalism (and no formal business training), Howard left his job at the St. Louis Business Journal on July 15, 1994, and started renovations on a rented retail space the very next day. He partnered with Suzanne Langlois to launch Kaldi’s coffeehouse, which was operating within 90 days. Twenty years later, Kaldi’s is still at its original location on Demun – joined by 10 newer locations and dozens of licensed units. The chain has become a standard for how an independent coffee shop should be run.
Suzanne Langlois and I started Kaldi’s Coffee with an idea and a cheap package of tools from a local hardware store. More businesses should start like this. Sometimes people worry so much about pro formas, insurance, and marketing plans that they never get started – which is really just fear masking as inertia. You can’t build your business based upon worst-case scenarios.
Northwest Coffee, The Grind and Shenandoah Coffee were the few coffeehouses in the area, but the “coffee culture” that is so ubiquitous today simply did not exist in St. Louis in 1994: coffee was something your parents drank out of a ceramic mug, either brewed at home or at the office: think greasy diner.
Or you could commit to the Full Monty at a local restaurant, where after a meal, you have a cup with the primary taste offerings drifting between hints of bitterness and stale: Waiter – can I get some extra cream? Alternatively, if you really needed a caffeine fix, it would be handed to you from a drive-through window.
None of this interested me. And they all had one thing in common: a focus on coffee as a transaction and not an experience. None of these transactions expressed a genuine positive emotion that lasted beyond the necessary business exchange between client and customer.
For the entire profile, click here