It’s peak season here on the North Shore. Lots of people are here, maybe even more than ever. Despite that, this year feels so much different. Instead of being open every day and late into the afternoon, our cafe is closed two days a week and our open sign darkens at noon. After noon the doors are clocked, the espresso maker is cleaned and everything goes quiet, even as life is bustling outside.
Why the change? Why aren’t we open as many hours as we have been in the past? Simply because we care deeply about you. Science shows people shouldn’t drink coffee in the afternoon, so we think it’s best to just close our doors earlier than usual. Ok, the science part of that last sentence is not true, or at least the jury is still out.
Roasting and Production for our Coffee
In all reality, we just CAN’T be open past noon right now, purely for logistical reasons. We don’t have enough room for roasting and production. We are roasting about 1000 pounds of coffee a week, and we don’t have the physical space to put all that coffee on shelves after it is roasted. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, our roasting days, production spreads out past the roasting area in the back of the cafe into the whole space of the cafe. Buckets of roasted coffee, bins of bagged coffee and boxes of coffee that are being prepped to ship spread out over our cafe counters, onto the tables and anywhere we can find a flat surface. Even if we weren’t short staffed those days, which we are, we would still need to be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays since our work demands the entire space we lease.
On the remaining days of the week, when we have to close our doors at noon, we do so because we are very short staffed. It’s a problem many of us are seeing on a national level, but in exaggerated numbers here on the North Shore. Here at Fika we have four awesome employees (including the roasting production team and cafe baristas) this summer versus seven from last summer. There are rumors that businesses that operated with 45 staff members in previous years are operating with 5-10 this year.
Quality Over Quantity
Because of this issue, we’ve decided to limit our open hours at the cafe from 7am to 12pm (instead of 7am to 5pm) with the goal of creating a quality experience for the customers that visit over having more customers flow through our doors. We want to keep our staff healthy and ready to serve our guests, instead of having them, and myself, completely burnt out.
The Pain I Feel
Honestly, it pains me not to have our cafe doors open each day and to have to close earlier than normal on the days we are open. I see everyone coming up to the door in hopes to grab their favorite drink, only to be disappointed when they realize the door is locked and the lights are off. If anybody knows, I can easily put myself on the other side. I know what it’s like to walk up to the door in search of the familiarity, comfort and excitement that can be found in a cup of coffee . If I was up on the North Shore for a couple of days I would want nothing more than a nice cup of coffee to start my day and likely another one before I headed off on an afternoon adventure.
Life in the Lutsen, MN Cafe
For the cafe, it has just been crazy, busy, good. Our cafe sales are up 34% from last year (and this summer we're not serving food like we were last). We are seeing numbers by noon in July that we would see in 2020 or 2019 at 5pm in the afternoon. So we assume that people have gotten word that we are closing at noon and are being intentional about getting to the cafe before then. But, as with so many business stats, numbers and influence, there are so many layers to people's behaviors and decisions, so we’re only guessing.
As we stand back and observe all of these changes and analyze where our business has been, where it is now and where we want it to be, I have had a couple of thoughts that continue to stand out.
Roaster First, Coffee Shop/Cafe Second
One thought is I want Fika Coffee to be a roaster with a cafe attached, not a cafe with a roaster attached. Want to take Fika back closer to its roots when it was a roaster in the woods, with a goal of getting high-quality coffee down the shore primarily through our wholesale channels and heavily supplemented by online sales. Over the past year, I’m sensing we have started to prioritize our cafe services over our wholesale and online offerings.
More Nuanced Than Not
I’m not a hundred percent sure how things evolved or how to shift things, but I do know it’s more nuanced than not. Making the change will require more thought, planning and intentional direction to keep Fika Coffee a roaster first, cafe second.
Unhealthy Mindsets Around North Shore Living
There has been this way of living and doing business along the North Shore - the thought of “make hay while the sun shines”- that I believe can be very unhealthy. For us here, the sun is shining during the summer months when tourist travel to the area is high. During these months, we work hard and long, especially as business owners. It’s so easy to believe that we have to make a year’s worth of income in the short four or so months of summer. From the start that was never Fika’s intention. Our intention was always to create/produce/craft/manufacture a quality product and then ship it down the shore, to create a community that has a piece of its heart in the North Shore, but stretches far beyond the Arrowhead of Minnesota.