A team of students in Iowa State University’s Entrepreneurship in Human Sciences class this semester did national field research on what makes an iconic coffeehouse. Contributed photos.

Establishing an iconic coffeehouse

What makes a coffeehouse iconic?

Five Iowa State University undergraduate students in Linda Niehm’s AESHM 474-574 Entrepreneurship in Human Sciences class this semester reached out to coffeehouses across the nation in search for the answer.

They’ll be among 101 students presenting their findings from 39 projects at the 13th annual College of Human Sciences Entrepreneurship Showcase, 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28 in the LeBaron Hall lobby with awards to follow in LeBaron Auditorium. The public is invited to attend.

Coffee bar to articulate the brand

Coffee contentFor the first time, the Entrepreneurship Showcase will feature a coffee bar as a way to demonstrate students’ findings. The research aimed to help Bill Malone, owner of Cafe Diem coffee shops in Ames and Ankeny, who also teaches entrepreneurship in the Iowa State University College of Business.  

“As an entrepreneur, you have to grow and change,” said Malone, who will expand next year from three stores to four. “Why not go to Chicago, L.A., New York and see what the coffee industry is doing there and bring some of those ideas back? We already had ideas in our heads. All of our ideas were validated and expanded when we went out there.”

Iowa State students joined Malone in visiting 22 independent coffeehouses this semester. While most were in the Chicago area, they also visited Brewhemia in Cedar Rapids and Java House in Iowa City. Coffee shop owners from across the nation also filled out questionnaires for the students.

Coffee content“We chose these coffeehouses based on the location and if they were in a popular area,” said Kendra Liska, a senior in hospitality management who led the five-person team of students. “We also analyzed the businesses based on what they brought to the table and how they could potentially provide information that we could pull from and help Cafe Diem.”

The research looked at everything from a coffee shop’s wall decor to its lighting, tables and seating, storefront, signage, and menus. Students observed the coffee bar itself, as well as other products that are sold there.

Malone said the Iowa State students brought fresh eyes to the market research, and made independent coffeehouse owners more willing to share information with them.

“One of the biggest things we learned is, to be a ‘third-wave coffeehouse,’ your staff is just as important as your product,”said Liska, whose team members included Adrienne Fay, Angelica Lawson, Carlye Wigert, and Aaron Rawson. 

Coffee contentThe “third wave of coffee” is a movement to produce high-quality coffee and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff like wine, rather than a commodity.

Coffee can be very artisan and if you do not have the proper educated staff, then there is a missed opportunity for your customer to build a relationship not only with the employee but with the product,” Liska said.

Cafe Diem is already implementing changes following the market research including simplifying its menu — which Malone said improves the customer experience — and installing new table tops, lighting, and signage.

“You develop your own niche,” Malone said. “People want to go to places that represent their culture, their town.”

In addition to identifying iconic coffeehouses, the team of students also updated Cafe Diem’s training manual and researched development of a product. They looked into a new way of filtering coffee with the pour-over method. Liska said students have a great foundation to start creating a budget analysis as well as a promotional plan for “The Pour Over.”

Help to Humboldt County businesses

cafe-diem-conent-4The theme of this year’s Entrepreneurship Showcase is “I can be an entrepreneur.” The event will feature several successful entrepreneurs who are Iowa State University graduates.

People from business, industry, and academia will judge College of Human Sciences students on their ideas to start a new business or spruce up an existing one. The showcase will feature both team and individual entries.

Some of this year’s business startup ideas include Hurry Curry, a food truck selling curry; an after-school program called Future Scientists; a power-washing company called Spray Away; a cause-related retail store called The Moral Compass; and a car-repair app called the Air Mechanic.

Coffee contentAs part of the outreach effort called the Iowa Retail Initiative, which provides a single point of contact for rural communities and retailers seeking help, five teams of students this year partnered with ISU Extension and Outreach to help businesses in Humboldt County.

Students worked with Personali-Tees, Humboldt Engravings and Gifts, Caribbean Coffee House, Divinity Salon, and Northland Auto and Marine and offered them a “toolkit” of strategies to improve their marketing, branding, and more. They made their initial site visits in February and were scheduled to give their final presentation to business owners this Thursday, April 21.

At the Entrepreneurship ShowcaCoffee contentse, all Iowa State University students are invited to take part in a “business idea pitch contest” where they’ll have 90 seconds to present their ideas for a new business to industry professionals. The deadline to sign up is Wednesday, April 27 by sending a brief description of your business by email to Phoebe Cooper, vpcooper@iastate.edu.

Students will compete for cash prizes in eight categories including best new business startup idea, best consulting/makeover of an existing business, and most sustainable business proposal. Those selected for the “best in show” awards will each receive $200. Runners-up will receive either $50 or $100, depending on the category.