Coffee shops are many things to many people — but for the most part, they usually stick to coffee, food and perhaps a little booze. But in recent years, we've seen the rise of the hybrid cafe, a place where coffee is still a central focus but where you can also do any number of things: buy records, pick up a six-pack, see live theater or set up catering orders. Even Starbucks has begun to test the waters of beer and wine service at select stores to bolster evening sales. Less frequently, cafes will whole-heartedly embrace an entirely different business concept and absorb it into its DNA, creating a hybrid cafe model that offers a vastly different experience from the norm.
In DFW we have some great examples of these hybrid cafes, ranging from amalgamations of concepts all managed by the same company to cafes that symbiotically share spaces with other, completely separate businesses.
The decision over a cafe's identity is largely a cultural one, says Carlos Guajardo, event manager at the Wild Detectives.
"It’s typical in Spain to find a bookstore that is also a wine shop or cafe," he says. "The owners, being from Spain, wanted to bring that concept to Bishop Arts. Note, this is not quite the same as a big box bookstore with a cafe in it — here, the cafe and bookstore are a seamless environment."
An obvious plus of this concept is that it can potentially draw from multiple different markets of customers, which not only increases traffic but also opens the doors for cross pollination.
At Bolsa Mercado, where customers can grab a cup of coffee while stocking up on locally made goods, custumers "love the flexibility," says Justo Blanco, director of operations. "They are able to purchase whatever they need as opposed to having to make several stops." Expanding a cafe's offerings beyond the typical coffee-shop menu can also increase sales outside of the typical morning coffee rush.
State Street Coffee banded together with The Alcove, with whom they share a space, to “make up an all-day living room," says State Street owner Mike Mettendorf. "Everything necessary is available to our wide range of visitors and their needs. Whether it’s a remote morning office, a baby shower or after-dinner drinks, we have an appeal that lasts throughout the day. This allows our neighbors to really build a lifestyle around our businesses and many visit multiple times a day."
For business that share spaces with separate businesses, both companies are able to focus on what they do best while still having a greater variety without the burdens of extra labor and expertise.
"I wouldn’t be successful in opening a wine and craft beer bar, and The Alcove has learned that coffee is best left to the experts," Mettendorf says. "Without this partnership, the overall environment we’ve created wouldn’t be possible for either of us alone."
Jonathan Meadows, co-owner of Cultivar Coffee, agrees. “Only having to focus on making good coffee while the other business locks down the delicious food is also great, and sharing customers really helps both sides," he says.
In their East Dallas space, Cultivar patrons can enjoy their coffee with a meal without the Cultivar folks actually having to get in the kitchen. "Goodfriend Package makes their own sausage, they make their own pastrami, they make their own beer biscuits," Meadows says. "It’s all really well done and we don’t have to do anything other than order a biscuit sandwich, fall in love and suggest our customers eat a biscuit too."
The same applies for alcohol. Goodfriend Package boasts "a stellar craft beer selection curated by Josh Yingling, who is about the only person in this world you want selecting beers for you," Meadows says. "Unfortunately, the law won’t let you drink on premises, but you can buy a single or mix and match a six pack for home. It’s really nice having all of this for our customers in East Dallas without having to do a damn thing."
One challenge this type of model presents: hiring a staff. "The difficulty isn’t in organizing different programs within the concept," Blanco says. "The challenges come in hiring a staff that is versatile enough to excel over all of those programs. We have been very lucky in finding and keeping our talented staff.”
It's not always easy to compromise with another business that also has its own vision. "I can’t stress enough that both sides need to be very clear about they are trying to accomplish before going into business together," Meadows says. "I believe that both businesses need to realize that they are not two separate businesses just sharing space, but that together they are providing a new concept unlike any other for their customers."
"Every decision made needs to consider the wellness of both businesses and their customers." Mettendorf says. "Often, something beneficial for one would be detrimental to the others."
Sometimes customers need a little help to understand how the system works. "It can be really confusing for some, but once they get used to the idea, they all love it," Meadows says. "Some people definitely wish that we were a straight up coffee shop where they could read a book or study, but that is one reason we opened our own shop in Oak Cliff."
For the Wild Detectives, this accessibility is all about balance. “I think we’ve been able to balance our offerings, events and inventory well within the space that we have to work with without overwhelming the staff — or the customers for that matter," Guajardo says. "It helps having a staff that’s interested and invested in the mission."
Operating a cafe of any sort is hard. The same goes for a restaurant, a wine bar or a bookstore. Combining these concepts can amplify the difficulty but can also net rewarding results in a concept that offers an experience that patrons simply can't find anywhere else.
“I love that every day can present a new set of challenges," Blanco says. "When you run a coffee shop exclusively, you are focused on coffee shop problems. With multiple concepts, you have to be ready of whomever comes in the door that day.”
Dive into the hybrid cafe at these DFW multi-taskers:
634 W Davis St.
Bolsa Mercado is an O.G. Oak Cliff destination. This space is a café serving a variety of coffee and food options, a market featuring products from local purveyors and a food and wine catering service.
This concept is actually a continuation on a model first attempted a block east with the restaurant Bolsa.
“Bolsa the restaurant was always supposed to be a local wine and goods market," Blanco says. "That part of the business never took off, so when we opened Bolsa Mercado, we decided to open a concept that would feature local producers and goods.”
Despite the variety of services Mercado offers, spanning from the market to catering, coffee has remained a force of momentum for the brand.
“Our most visible regulars tend to be coffee patrons," Blanco says. "It’s what gives us the opportunity for impulse buys. Our catering and market clients come in for meetings and we use the coffee program as a customer service amenity to fulfill whatever desire they might have.”
1155 Peavy Road
This space is a collaborative endeavor between Cultivar and Goodfriend Package — a meat-centric sandwich shop with a great retail beer program — from the minds that brought us East Dallas favorite, Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House.
This is actually the second iteration of the East Dallas branch of Cultivar Coffee; Cultivar moved into Goodfriend Package's space after sharing a location with Good 2 Go Taco across the street.
"In 2011, Good 2 Go Taco relocated from the Green Spot gas station where they incubated their business and had the desire to pay it forward, so they partnered up with Stir Coffee and opened up shop in East Dallas," Meadows says. "Cultivar was still in it’s infancy as a roasting company so my partner, Nathan Shelton, went to work for Stir Coffee as their lead barista. After only a few months, Stir and Good 2 Go parted ways. We sat down with Stir and they asked if we would like to buy their coffee equipment and take over the space. It was really just the opportunity we needed to showcase the coffee we were roasting and it’s still hard to believe that it kinda fell in our laps."
At their new space with Goodfriend, it's clear that both business have collaborated to create a distinct culture — and this branch of Cultivar has a distinct identity separate from their newer Oak Cliff space. "When you open a concept, I think you have to stay true to that concept," Meadows says. "In East Dallas, we are not a quiet coffee shop with jazz playing in the background. We are a loud place with a big vibe. It’s a ton of fun, but if somebody prefers to chill, they may be more comfortable at our place in Oak Cliff. "
State Street Coffee/The Alcove
2907 State St.
This Uptown spot packs a lot into its 50-square-foot space contained within The Alcove beer and wine bar.
“I was contracted as a consultant to adopt The Alcove’s failing coffee program,” Mettendorf says. “Despite success in achieving our sales goals, The Alcove expected to discontinue their coffee service in the summer of 2014. In turn, I offered to purchase their equipment if they’d let me attempt to continue the struggling coffee program on my own. They rented me a corner of their store, and we built the tiny State Street Coffee in just three days."
Since its inception, the spot has become ingrained in the culture of the neighborhood for both its coffee and its staff. "The best feedback I’ve heard ... is that we employ long-term staff that have ingrained themselves into the neighborhood as much or more than our respective brands," he says.
The Wild Detectives
314 W. Eighth St.
The Wild Detectives is a complex place. Equal parts cafe, bar, bookstore and event space, the Bishop Arts spot offers different experiences cohesively in a comfortable space. Wild Detectives "was designed to be a hub for creative thought and sharing ideas," Guajardo says. "We strive to fill our space with the kind of culture that makes our lives rich and stimulating: books, records, music, plays, readings and, above all, hours of conversation — things that will get you to a new place every day. "
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The experience offered here has clearly resonated with the neighborhood.
"Everyone’s been incredibly supportive," Guajardo says. "It’s interesting how different many people’s experiences are. To some it’s exclusively a coffee shop that happens to sell some alcohol. To others it’s a bar where you can also get an espresso if you need to perk up after a few cocktails. Some people refer to the bookstore as a 'library,' maybe not fully aware that the books are there not just to browse, but to purchase as well."
The Wild Detectives is a great example of combining vastly different business ideas while maintaining quality and continuity amongst them all.
"We’re aware that we’re not the first to combine a bookstore with coffee and alcohol, and now we’re not even the only game in town," Guajardo says. "But we’ve always believed in quality over anything else."