Where do you feel more at home than any where else (besides home, of course)? For me it’s the coffee shop. I spent pretty much all of my late teens through my early 30s in a cafe. Whether it was for studying, sketching, using the wifi, reading, writing, meetings, all-ages hip hop shows, dance and music showcases, picking up a copy of The Stranger, listening in on other people’s conversations, reading the community bulletin board or maybe even just to actually chill and have some coffee with a friend.
I love the community vibes of a cafe; you can feel the ideas buzzing around you.
Then I moved to New York. Quickly I realized there wasn’t a neighborhood cafe on every block and that I had taken Seattle’s coffee culture for granted. I didn’t want to go to… ugh… Starbucks! Noooooo…. But I couldn’t find anything that felt like “home.” I could lament for hours on this topic but let me jump ahead to last Fall when I saw a sign in a storefront window just a few blocks from me. It stopped me in my tracks and filled me with hope. Could this be it? I eagerly awaited the opening and yes, it was IT!
Cream Coffee and Tea has been open for almost a year now. Without them I don’t know how I could have gotten through my 2nd year of motherhood (while running my business). They don’t know it but they’ve brightened my most dreary, sleep-deprived days. I decided to ask the owner, Ping Lu, to answer some questions about opening his cafe in Bay Ridge (Brooklyn) – partially because I’m nosy and LOVE to hear all about other people and their business stories and partially because I’m starting a new blogging bootcamp and this is our first assignment! I also think it might be a little helpful to anyone thinking about opening a brick and mortar shop in Brooklyn. So here you go:
20 Questions with Cream Coffee & Tea Shop’s owner, Ping Lu:
1) Is this your first business venture?
This is my first brick and mortar venture. Before that, I had a small business selling retail goods on eBay, as well as a small IT consultant company.
2) Have you always felt “drawn” to owning a cafe? Or was it a bolt-of-lightning moment? How did it come about?
At first I wanted to launch an internet based tea business. I really wanted to get into blending my own tea and selling traditional teas from all over the world. After many months of deliberation, one idea lead to another and it ultimately led to a brick and mortar café. The more research I did into coffee, the more intrigued I became. That’s when we decided to do both coffee and tea! The best of both worlds.
3) What was the biggest challenge making Cream a reality?
The biggest challenge was definitely working with our small budget, wrangling with time constraints and dealing with our inexperience in the food industry. With our budget, getting everything that we needed was a daunting task. Especially looking for a location for the storefront. The rent was extremely high, the landlords requested way too many things in the lease, and the locations that fit the budget were less than ideal. We spent an enormous time physically scouring through the city until we stumbled upon this little gem in Bay Ridge. We also spent countless, countless hours on the internet and on the phone with many city departments finding out all the rules and regulations to running a store in the food industry. Do it right, or don’t do it at all.
4) What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about yourself or running a business since you’ve opened Cream?
The biggest lesson I learned was how to deal with all the stress. One hundred hour weeks, seven days a week was absolutely brutal. With all of the sleepless nights and super long weeks, I was forced to evaluate how to handle the stress of running a business and the unexpected problems that constantly reared its ugly head. I am a happy go lucky kind of person with everything and I felt the business was changing me for the worst. I was a little more jaded and bitter as each day went on. I realized quickly and learned to not stress about things you cannot control. When things go awry, just accept the situation for what it is and quickly find an efficient solution to the problem. It’s an endless boxing bout, the punches will keep coming – just have to dust yourself off and keep progressing forward.
5) Do you drink coffee or tea every day? Same thing or a different thing every day?
I just drink iced coffee everyday. Even the winter doesn’t stop me. I would prefer to drink cold brew all day everyday but I might as well close shop now because I would go completely bankrupt drinking that liquid gold – haha.
6) How did you decide on Stumptown Coffee? (They are one of my faves.)
We loved the experience and support that Stumptown was offering us. They sold us on their dream of artisanal coffee along with their vision of providing the ultimate customer service experience. It the perfect fit for what we wanted to do. And their nitro cold brew is just bonkers. One sip sent me to heaven. (Sidenote from me: IT’S TRUE, IT’S SO GOOD.)
7) Do you have any short- or long-term goals you’re working towards (personal or business)?
Currently, I want to keep adding to the menu and provide new experiences for the customers. With so many things up in the air, it’s hard to progress forward and easy to hermit into survival mode. For now, the main focus is to get things settled down with staff and training. Then I will be able to do more with the menu.
8) Where do you go (online or offline) or what do you read for small-business, cafe-running, or marketing advice?
I completely nerd out; I am always reading different science publications and I am on phys.org frequently. For anything pertaining to business, I roam blogs and websites of other entrepreneurs. It is great to see what others are doing and blogs give a lot of insight to as what they are doing.
9) If you were a beer, wine, or cocktail what would it be?
Anything tequila. I am always just trolling people, haha
10) What was your all-time fave Halloween costume?
My favorite costume would have to be Captain Morgan. It was just way too much fun when I went out as the captain. Posing with random people while standing on an imaginary barrel was great
11) What do you do for play or when you have down time?
I usually just catch up on sleep. Lately, the motto for myself has been sleep times are best times LOL
12) Who or what keeps you motivated?
My parents. They wholeheartedly lived their lives for my sister and I. They have been working tirelessly for 30 years with us as their goal and I want to do the same for them. It will happen one way or another!
13) What music do you turn on when you need a dance break?
There are just too many to name. Mainly old school hip hop and R+B.
14) Do you have any daily rituals that make you feel like “you got this”?
I wake up feeling like death, dreading the 14+ hour day ahead of me. After I finish getting ready, I take a 5 minute nap on the couch before I go out the door. I feel like I can conquer the universe after the power nap.
15) If you were to let someone order for you at your fave restaurant who would it be?
My mom. She always wants to cook for me and she knows what I would like to eat.
16) Who knows how you take your coffee?
Mostly my close friends. Iced coffee, black.
17) What are your Can’t-Miss TV shows?
Battlestar Galactica, Top Gear UK, and Sherlock are some of my faves.
18) True or False: Outer order creates inner calm.
I’ve learned that inner calm creates outer order =D
19) Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
The terracotta soldier exhibit I went to see in Xi’an China was simply breathtaking. To see all the statues standing there in the excavation site was mind boggling.
20) Any words of advice for those considering opening up a brick and mortar shop?
Jump off the cliff and do it. If you’re already considering opening a brick and mortar, I am pretty sure you have most of your marbles collected and polished. Face the fear and take a leap of faith for yourself. The best advice I ever got was from my high school teacher. She told me to “dive in head first for college” and I have taken that approach for nearly everything.