Bootstrapping for Beginners

The fact that this is my first post of 2015 may give you some clue of how busy I’ve been recently… At least, I hope that’s the interpretation you will take. The last few months have flashed past in a under-caffeinated blur, and it really doesn’t seem that long since I did the Big Reveal post.

All that I was revealing then is now an actuality. We are not yet officially open, which is utterly maddening because I swear I’ve worked harder over the last few weeks that I did over the entire 16 preceding months in my cosy little tedious office job. So, so close but yet so far. But our space is now a Place, it has colour, personality, furniture, a Twitter following (!) and as of yesterday, functional bathrooms. What it lacks is a Highly Important Piece of Paper, significant only for the bureaucratic nightmare that it represents, but more on that in a minute.Dragon-Coffee-coffee-34107654-670-491

I remember watching Dragon’s Den a few years back in the UK. Some Scottish bloke was on there pitching his idea about a franchise of internet cafes (eek, that must have been MANY MANY years ago, now that I think about it!). I usually enjoy Dragon’s Den because I can always find something to admire/ridicule/borrow from in other people’s business ideas and the Dragons’ verdicts. Obviously in an entrepreneurial sense, this is called “research”. Ahem. Anyway, Scots Internet Cafe guy got shot down dramatically, with Theo Paphitis scornfully asking, “So it’s basically just a coffee shop, right?”

As if “just a coffee shop” isn’t entrepreneurial enough for the Dragons. As if it’s not worthy of investment. As if it doesn’t require their expertise. As if it’s easy.

This is my… fourth coffee business not counting my consultancy work (ye gads!) and my second coffee shop, and even after a certain amount of practice and experience, IT IS NOT EASY. I started my little coffee Ape van venture in 2009, and much has changed in 6 years. The coffee market, the economy, marketing techniques, and my own personal circumstances: I am now a Mum and I’m not even on the same continent as before. Calling the place Dr. Coffee’s Cafe has meant explaining the coffee PhD to a lot of people recently; I always say as fascinating as it was, the qualification is hardly vocational given that I haven’t stayed in academia. It took me all over the world, I’ve written books, I know far too much coffee-related trivia and I make a fairly decent cuppa nowadays, but none of that in any way prepares me for the grim realities of starting a business from scratch.

Telus (a phone company?) are supporting Futurpreneur (our funders) and running a Twitter campaign where people are encouraged to tweet their business tips for other wannabe entrepreneurs. #MyBusinessTip won me a virtual hippo:


Bootstrapping – learning whole new skillsets as you go and making sure you understand the process of *every single tiny aspect* of the business, is the way to go. Our experiences with the unreliable and seriously useless contractors taught me that if you need something doing, try and do it yourself! And also, the importance of getting everything in writing in words of one syllable, setting strict deadlines, the ins and outs of contract law, and never leaving anything to ‘trust’ and ‘good faith’! Once burned…

Whereas I didn’t actually have to tile bathrooms and fit toilets myself (although it was a close call!), and we had invaluable help from my parents in constructing the bar, there were still many many things I wish I’d never had to learn. Here’s an abridged list:

  • Using masking tape to do fiddly little edges and finishes on your paintwork
  • A whole new lexicon for Canadian plumbing fixtures
  • How to wire a decidedly odd, 4 pin dual-voltage plugs
  • The location of most lumber yards in Regina
  • How to finish aluminium window frames with duct tape
  • The intricacies of the health and safety /food handling code, building code and commercial plumbing requirements
  • Bureaucracy behind running a new business in an old, heritage building
  • How to program an insanely over-complicated cash register
  • How to run a pay roll system and do tax, EI and CPP contribution deductions
  • That rolled up newspaper is actually better than cleaning cloths for cleaning windows.

Right now, we are still waiting for the local health authority to inspect us, tell us whether our fridges are the right termperature, check our handwashing stations and prep areas, yada yada yada. They have to approve our plans (nearly a week, no response yet) then they will appear magically “at some point” after that to do a full inspection. But we don’t know when, and we are not allowed to open until they do. IF they don’t find anything to worry about during the inspection. Aaaaaaaaaaargh. This is the highly significant piece of paper that we are stressing over. So frustrating waiting for bureaucracy to grind it’s mammoth and incomprehensible gears when everything else is ready to go!! But, patience is just one more thing we have to learn, along with budgeting for the money we’re losing by not being open already.


I have to learn to have faith that we WILL get there, that others will come through for us, and it should be soon. But that is probably the hardest part of this immense learning curve!

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Big Reveal

It is all happening again!


New Logo

My personal collection of madness hamsters have been nibbling on my brain again  too much recently. The weird little critters that invade at 3am and whisper things like “you’re not a corporate person” or “what’s the point in having a salary if you have no time to enjoy it?” Or “you’re too creative for a 9-5″  and “the more bored you get, the more we will steal your brain” and so on. They are annoying. I also tend to think they are right.


Copyright: Edward Monkton

I don’t want the hamsters to steal my brain, but I was resigned to what I tried to convince myself was a sensible option – working a secure, decently paid and non-stressful (but BORING) job for a number of years in order to save up enough money to start my coffee shop again properly, and also to sort out my permanent residency status in Canada and build up a good credit rating and just not rush headlong into enormous financial risk, ill-prepared. I started Wheelie Good Coffee as a sort of trial run, to keep me amused and still Coffee-ing, and to keep the hamsters at bay. The trouble is,  Wheelie Good Coffee has been very successful, and I now want more. I  also lack the patience for the Sensible option.
A lot of things have happened extremely quickly. It is not always a concious effort, and this sounds horribly like something from Pinterest, but as soon as you make a confident decision to do something, things start falling into the place to make it happen. Always. Just maybe not in the way you expected. In this instance, a guy called Matt and I ill-met by strip-light at an office pizza party just 3 months ago. Our boss made some comment about my coffee phd, and Matt started asking all about the original Doctor Coffee’s Cafe in Darlington. I didn’t think much of it – most people at work have heard this story. But then I got an email from him asking “how much would you need to start a coffee shop?”


The building! Thanks @cenobyte

I hazarded a guess depending on location – turns out I was pretty close! The short version of events is that Matt is a graduate of the UofR business school, and very interested in entrepreneurship, but has never yet had the opportunity to actually start a business of his own. Conversely, I have started quite a few businesses now but with no official schooling in business besides trial and error. More significantly, my newcomer status and lack of capital means I have no way of funding a new start up. Matt does not have these problems, neither does he have huge bills like humungous town house rent or childcare to contend with.  So, he applied for the funding. We then scouted round for a building, and after a lot of disappointments and frustration, I found a near-perfect one – via a chance conversation with a stranger on Twitter. After negotiating the lease with the landlord who I just happened to have made coffee for a few years ago at 13th Ave Coffee House, a lot of phoning around got us a general contractor to turn a huge empty space into a pleasant social space with two bathrooms and a coffee bar. I rallied the troups and got Bill to agree to roast the coffee for us, and got the tea supplier sorted, and chose an Orange espresso machine whilst avoiding the standard sales pitch since I already new what I wanted. Another brief plea for interest on Twitter has landed us some excellent local food suppliers too, and further chance meetings have lead to potential other vendors coming on board as well (BOOKS!! YAY!!), all with a local theme. And yesterday, Matt and I signed our lives away  by incorporating the company as set up by a lawyer who Matt used to play hockey with. We are now Dr Coffee’s Cafe Ltd, and as such, Matt no longer bears the entirety of the financial risk. And neither do I.


The huge and still empty space!

Getting this all together inside 6 weeks has only been possible because Regina is a small and very friendly town, and vague but useful connections are very easy to come by (and I like talking to people). But that does beg the question, does a small place like Regina actually need another coffee shop?
Of course I’m going to say yes, because this is a passion project, and I don’t know the meaning of Too Much Coffee. But in all seriousness, I do believe Regina can support another cafe downtown or in Cathedral. Cathedral is down to one solo coffee shop which isn’t much to write home about. There is nowhere within a comfy walking distance that does coffee anything like as good as Roca Jack’s used to, and annoyingly few places that we can go that are comfortable with small children in tow. From our work, we have a choice of Tim Hortons or Second Cup- both are chains, neither are nice. Matt and I discussed locations in huge detail because this sort of venture can  only be successful if you get the location absolutely spot on. He made an interesting point – with this sort of business, we needed to stress expertise, quality and local demand over innovation. I’d tried to work quirky things like having a kids corner and selling books into the business plan to try and give us unique selling points, and to make us something more than “just another coffee shop”, but really, it wasn’t necessary. The selling point is our convenient location – very close to a number of offices and a call centre, with no other coffee shop in that area. Of course, being the only person in Saskatchewan, if not Canada, with a Phd in coffee kinda helps too!! We may not be very  different, but we can be a LOT better at it.

So, we are on track to open in March 2015. Updates will no doubt be coming as we progress, so watch this space! And if you’re feeling extra specially generous and supportive and full of Christmas spirit, then I’ll happily take donations to the cause!


Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


Caffeine, health and quacks on the internet.

Stop EVERYTHING!! Somebody is WRONG on the internet!!!!

The husband is groaning at me again because he knows full well a RANT is forthcoming. This time, someone with a book to promote, posted some coffee-related claptrap on LinkedIn. Sadly, LinkedIn limits the space you have to write comments so I couldn’t do my righteous indignation justice on there, so it will have to go here instead.

The article (HERE) basically demonises caffeine. under the guise that it apparently stops you working calmly and productively. First of all, surely this depends a great deal on what your work actually is. In my day job, coffee is the ONLY thing that enables me to stay awake and focused, not because I’m tired but because my work is so tedious and repetitive. I fail to see how staying alert with your brain firing on all cylinders can ever be a problem in a work environment, unless you’re a yoga instructor or something. Excessive consumption can inevitably lead to hypertension, anxiety and insomnia, but then true excess of anything is never good for you. Caffeine is fine, as long as you are sensible about it. One commenter on the original article supports it, saying that she used to drink 20 cups a day and had all sorts of health problems. Go figure.

The article appears to be trying to argue that caffeine doesn’t actually improve your alertness; it claims coffee offers a short term, quick fix. You feel tired, you drink coffee, it wakes you up and peps you for a bit, but then it wears off, you feel “withdrawal” symptoms (largely psychosomatic in most cases, but also linked to dehydration, ie: headaches and migraines), then having another cup returns you to “normal” mode rather than giving you an actual boost again. This is a strong argument for (psychological) addiction, as it suggests that you’d need to drink more each time to get the same buzz effect. However, this is not in itself harmful. In fact, it is only unpleasant if you do ‘withdraw’ from caffeine. You’ll get the headaches and lethargy if you don’t have your morning coffee, but then, why shouldn’t you just drink it?

This study from the University of Vermont details what actually causes the withdrawal headache, but also, interestingly, shows how there is no net benefit of continued caffeine consumption, ie: you don’t get more and more and more alert by drinking coffee every day, it does it’s job, it wears off, rinse, repeat. The crucial bit here is IT WEARS OFF. The article appears to be trying to argue that being in a constant state of hyper-alertness, the adrenaline-charged fight or flight instinct is not good for staying cool, calm collected and focused at work – well, true, but you only get to that pepped up state through excessive consumption – in which case, you will also get the come-down and the withdrawal. A few cups of coffee to ease the tedium of a corporate office job do not have these effects.

Caffeine wakes you up by latching on to adenosine receptors in the brain. For a more technical explanation, try this article but in brief, adenosine is a chemical produced naturally in the brain that tells your body to rest. The adenosine molecules latch on to receptors in the brain, and suddenly you start feeling sleepy. Caffeine just gets in the way. Caffeine molecules are similar enough to adenosine molecules that they can attach to the adenosine receptors instead. When this happens, your brain never gets the message that it needs to rest, and so you don’t feel sleepy. As soon as your body processes and rids itself of the caffeine, the receptors are freed up, and adenosine can seep back in, and low and behold, you feel sleepy again. Caffeine therefore only inhibits the adenosine that is already there. If you are not tired nor sleepy to begin with, then the caffeine won’t misplace anything and you won’t automatically feel tired as soon as the caffeine wears off, and won’t get the withdrawal either.

This is all very short term. The cycle of adenosine displacement and replacement takes place over a period of a few hours at most. The article says nothing of the long term effects of caffeine consumption, most of which are highly beneficial. This study shows that long term caffeine consumption can protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia (particularly acute in women, apparently). This one suggests coffee reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Here’s one saying that it prevents prostate cancer. This one demonstrates how coffee acts as an antidepressant (again, particularly for women), and this one even goes as far as to say “Drinking Coffee Reduces Suicide Risk by 50%” (you can guess which of these is my favourite piece of click-bait!). All mightily good stuff. And yes, for the record, there are also many articles about coffee/caffeine being bad for anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, kidney stones, other forms of diabetes, and osteoporosis. It’s all about balance. If you’re a stressed out, obese insomniac with brittle bones, then maybe you should leave it out, nd consult a doctor who didn’t write their thesis in the geography department.

My final problem with the original LinkedIn article is the claim that “coffee has a 6 hour half-life…Have a cup of joe at eight a.m., and you’ll still have 25% of the caffeine in your body at eight p.m”. Tellingly, there are no sources cited for that little gem.  In an average, healthy person, the body metabolises the caffeine in one cup of coffee in 2-3 hours, less if you have a high metabolic rate or if you have already built up a good tolerance to it. So, it’s only likely to prevent you from sleeping if you drink a cup within 3 hours of going to bed. This metabolism time doubles for heavily pregnant women though, and also stays in infants’ systems via breastmilk for far longer, so caffeine in late pregnancy and while breastfeeding is not advisable – unless of course, you are aware of how long it takes to process and don’t exceed that rate of consumption. If your body takes 3 hours to rid itself of the caffeine, then you can have a coffee every three hours with no withdrawal and no effects of excess either. As already shown, having the caffeine in your system is not in itself harmful anyway.

Yes, I do love my coffee and will defend it, and I dare say that makes me biassed. But I defend it with some verifiable evidence. I would love you to buy my coffee and even better,.buy my book, but the book is not really about caffeine or health benefits or lifestyle choices at all. Unlike the author of the original article. Grab a coffee, have a read and make up your own alert, happy, awake minds!

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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Back in the business of Beans

Recently I have been hugely busy, as we finally have the Wheelie Good Coffee cart off the ground! Erm, not literally. Well, OK there was one incident… anyway, in case you missed my recent post, dear reader, Wheelie Good Coffee is my latest venture: a little cart from which I serve pour over coffees, hooked up to the back of my bike. Originally it was supposed to be attached to the trike, but the trike hitch is still a work-in-progress so for now I am wobbling along on just two wheels with Carl’s help. The aforementioned “off the ground” incident occurred when I overloaded the cart and hit a bump, and then managed to ping the back of wheel of the bike, and myself up in the air and into the curb. Oww.


But these minor teething issues aside, all is going phenomenally well. After a wild and windy launch at the Cathedral Village Arts Festival, I am now serving coffee on the Regina Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and as many Wednesdays as the day job will allow. Sadly the market is only on twice a week, and only during the summer, otherwise I’d be out there every day and would quit the day job, but sadly 8 hours a week cannot pay the bills. Fun, busy, successful, confidence boosting Saturdays make coming in to the office on Mondays even worse than usual though. I am not a corporate person. I felt this to be true even before I started this job, but 8 months there has proved it beyond all shadow of a doubt. I loved my university departments, but that is about as close to an office job as I ever want to get.

At risk of jinxing things though, the cart is going so well, it inspires me to believe that I am really on to something and could really turn it in to a full time business – given time and hard work. The hard work is not the issue – I am doing this because I enjoy it. Having done something similar before, I know my limits and I’ve learned from my mistakes and experiences with the coffee Ape van and Doctor Coffees Cafe. I am not perhaps approaching this so blindly. The time is an issue though, because I am so impatient!

The response to the coffee cart has been such a massive contrast to everything I experienced in Darlington – in the best possible way. Given the circumstances, I still believe I did bloody well in Darlington – but as I said at the time, the little I managed to achieve there, was done despite Darlington council, despite the unhelpfulness and disinterest of the local market officers, and despite the horrible location itself. This time round, the wonders of a new home on a new continent have provided me with amazing amount of support and encouragement and ideas and constructive feedback even before my lovely Carl had built the cart!

I cannot thank the Farmers Market crew enough – their support has been invaluable and the market is exceptionally well run and successful. It is also very well attended, and I am rushed off my feet every week, to the point where I don’t even get time to drink my own coffee!! Every week more people visit saying “hey, I follow you on Twitter” or “ooo yay! Coffee on the market!” Or compliment me on the set up (which I redirect to Carl) or the quality of the coffee. On top of that, I am even getting a lot of help from friends at other local businesses – from recommendations for events that could use coffee, to me borrowing a licensed kitchen area with big sinks to sterilize my water tanks in properly from a neighbouring business, to Roca Jacks roasting the coffee and Cuppa T’s selling me tea wholesale. It’s just wonderful, and encouraging enough to make the whole entrepreneurial start-up journey that much less precarious!


But this is not just a business blog! What of the coffee, I hear ye cry?
Well, most of it looks like this:

I make pourover coffee, that is, pouring hot water very slowly over a coffee dripper lined with filter paper and filled with the best freshly ground coffee, until it drips through a fills the cup underneath. It is far more elaborate and time consuming than making normal drip or percolated coffee, but it makes a much fresher, cleaner cup. Its single serve (though I have four drippers to do four drinks at a time), and because I make it in front of the customers, there’s no issue of keeping it stewing on a hot plate for ages. It’s about as fresh as you can get outside! Also, i get to wave a large, long spouted coffee pot around and make the coffee grounds ‘bloom’ and create steam so it all looks a bit like a mad chemistry experiment. For what is coffee without a bit of magic and theatre?

The beans themselves come from Roca Jacks. This makes me very happy indeed. I tried, but I couldn’t manage to rescue the Roca Jacks coffee shop. However, Bill now appears on our doorstep bearing coffee every few weeks, and our house smells deliciously of freshly roasted gooodness all the time. Better yet, I’m going to start retailing the beans in my online store as well, along with all the paraphenalia you need (drippers, coffee socks, mugs etc) to make Wheelie Good Coffee at home!

A lot of work awaits me yet, but my coffee-flavoured future looks like a bright happy one from here. Cheers!

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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Great Coffee Dictionary Project

Reblogging this from coffeebyproxy – another coffee blog by fellow coffee anthropologist, Kate in Colorado. I am going to add my bits as soon as I have time (gulp!), but if you are linguistically gift coffee lover, then please feel free to contribute!


The Great Coffee Dictionary Project.

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Posted by on June 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Launch day! Again!


I couldn’t decide which blog this should go on – it is COFFEE, in Regina.

Originally posted on The Regina Monologue:

Yesterday, 19th May 2014, saw the launch of my 3rd coffee business, Wheelie Good Coffee. You’d think with all this experience, starting up would be a breeze by now. Fat chance!! For nostalgia purposes, I read back over my post from September 2009 on here, when we launched Doctor Coffee’s Cafe Ape Van. Five long years ago, I was equally exhausted and apparently nearly fainted at my friends’ wedding and developed a mysteriously swollen ankle. In hindsight, it is easy to see these were signs of early pregnancy! This time, I am aching all over and knackered, but no other Big News to report I’m afraid.

Wheelie Good Coffee has already taken on a life of its own online. I’m at, and most significantly, @wheeliegdcoffee on Twitter. Twitter has been invaluable, both for inspiration and for the support to actually get this idea off the ground. I’ve received so…

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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


Spring Greens

I meant to post this the other day for Earth Day, or better yet, a few weeks ago after Earth Hour at the end of March. Of course, everyone turned out their lights at the allotted time then, so the planet has been rescued and we can all breathe a sigh of relief as we all get back in our cars and switch our screens on again….

Excuse the sarcasm. I just don’t get Earth Day. Isn’t every day Earth Day? It’s not like we go anywhere else often, is it?

I am on a bit of a Green coffee kick nowadays, however. I don’t mean Green coffee as in, raw coffee, although I do have some large sacks of that in the basement at the moment. Nor do I mean the likes of Nescafe Green Blend. Despite that still being the most commented on post on this blog, I haven’t actually seen many anti-oxident filled, weight-loss marketed, gimicky and green-washed coffee products in quite a while. Maybe they haven’t reached Canada yet. This is a very good thing.

What I mean this time, is environmentally-friendly coffee, if that isn’t an oxymoron. I’ve already written a great deal about organic and/or sustainably produced coffee, and there are very many issues with it. In brief, organic coffee is far more difficult and more risky for impoverished farmers to grow – sometimes is it not worth the investment of time, labour and resources to grow a crop that may well be eaten by pests before it can be harvested. Then there are the high-end buyers who refuse to buy organic coffee under the impression that using chemical fertilizers optimises the quality of the beans….

Of course, the farmer-friendly alternative involves cutting down the cloudforests and destroying the biodiversity in the tropics, just to grow a cash crop.

In summary then, it is very very difficult to grown coffee in an environmentally-friendly way. But given that millions of people’s livelihoods depend on those crops, can we not just consume it better?

I am trying to do my bit. My last post was ranting and raving about how wasteful Keurig k-cups and other coffee pods are. Getting rid of them would be a start. I am soon going to launch the first ‘green’, trike-drawn coffee cart in Regina (not actually green, more, PURPLE) – it’ll be the only food truck downtown that doesn’t have an engine too.


I am also selling reusable travel mugs, and CupCuffs – very stylish, reusable sleeves for your takeaway coffees that don’t involve cutting down trees to make cardboard disposable ones. (FYI, they’re made in Canada too, not sewn by small Korean children and shipped around the world).

I also saw this the other day:

I’d love to see that in Regina – it may be a while yet though…

Recent studies claiming that arabica coffee could be wiped out by climate change in as little as 80 years were widely reported, but the one that stuck with me most poignantly was this:

Mainly because it highlights the devastation in my beloved Nicaragua. I can as flippant as I like about Earth Hour and associated first-world hand-wringing, but this – this is serious.

So what can we do? Not stop drinking the coffee. Stopping drinking coffee just makes it worse – the farmers still have to sell it to someone! The whole globalised market is not suddenly going to disappear over night, no matter how much I dislike Starbucks/Nestle/Keurig/insert-latest-fashionable-boycott-here. Instead, do as the farmers tell us:

Coffee picker Myra Carmen Chavarría in Atuna Uno was amazed when I told her that I spent £2 or more every day on a cappuccino. “If you love coffee in your country that much, you need to help us survive to grow it for you!”

Simple really: pay more for it, or lose it. Paying a higher price for coffee won’t cure climate change, but it will certainly help the farmers cope with that climate change better. Or, start learning to love Robusta coffee that is more resilient to climate change and disease – and tastes far worse.

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Posted by on April 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


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