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Business Owner Spotlight: Those First Weeks In Business

Yelp Dublin is bursting with love for newly opened café – Meet Me In The Morning. We stopped by and chatted with the business owner, Brian O’Keefe, about his first two months in business, his first reviews and of course… his first coffee. Read on below…

Tell us a little about how you got into the world of coffee?

My first real coffee experience was in college, I started to drink vats of muck in the canteen while studying for exams. It was a necessary evil. I relocated back to Ireland after some time in Barcelona, and the landscape in Ireland had really changed then. There was an emerging foodie scene and a huge burst in successful independent businesses. 3FE had just opened and I remember trying their tasting menu and thinking the coffee was flavoured – I had no idea. Years later, in Paris, was where I really fell in love with coffee.

What inspired you to open your own business?

I want to say it happened by accident, but maybe it was pre-destined. I was in Paris working as a teaching assistant in a Uni and I took a part-time job at an amazing café, Coutume. Before long I was managing the café and the lecturing had morphed into the part-time job.

I owe a lot to my time in Paris, and to the people I met there. I have always found that people who love coffee intrinsically love food, they are enthralled by the entire experience beyond just the end product. In Coutume, top restaurant owners would drop in for their coffee. These people, entrepreneurs, are so passionate about what they do – it is inspirational. You see them working 80 hours a week because they love it, you can’t help but be influenced and inspired by that.

So, you’re only open a couple of weeks and the reviews have been amazing. You’re already on the Yelp ‘Hot & New list’ and you have lots of great media coverage. How are you taking the feedback?

It’s been amazing, we are really lucky so many people have found us.  We are a little off the beaten track so the buzz online and being found on sites like Yelp make a big difference. That said, we are never going to win absolutely everyone over, and I am not trying to either, so I make sure to keep that in mind when reading less favourable reviews.

Speaking of… any advice for other business owners reading negative reviews?

I actually just had this experience – we got a bad review on Yelp right after we opened. It is the best bad review, honestly, I loved it. Basically, we had a customer visit us and outline all the things he didn’t like about it; our space is small, the menu is limited, the coffee changes and so on. The reality is he represents lots of people who won’t like what we do, we aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, or coffee – pun intended. On a serious note, he illustrated what many people will think, and for me, that’s ok. It’s funny because most of the things he didn’t enjoy about the cafe are the things that we absolutely love about it.

Opening a business is definitely easier said than done, but my advice is to remain true to yourself and your business while also being realistic about what will work with people, and if you made a mistake you made a mistake – it happens. If you didn’t make everyone happy, that’s ok – not everyone has the same favorite color right?

Are you catering to a certain coffee aficionado?

I get asked this a lot and I hate the term ‘Coffee Snob’. There is a spectrum, like with anything, and there are different needs to be met. Coffee chains meet a need and I respect that, they are consistent and transparent about who they are. I am not trying to compete, I am trying to serve an audience who are interested in the experience of coffee. I have different roasts on the bar every week – I want us to be somewhere that exhibits something different. A place that people come to eat, to taste and most importantly, to experience.

Is it risky to be inconsistent?

Not inconsistent, just different. I would rather not drink the same thing every day, and if I did want to then there are lots of places where I could find that. So to me, there’s nothing wrong with offering something that changes more frequently. The café is really a reflection of me and my tastes, and I want to share that with people.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The people are going to make the place. I have a small team here and realistically I don’t want somebody to just want a job, I want them to learn and I want them to be happy and have input in how the café runs and what’s on the menu. If I can create an environment where the team really feel that way I think the café will really emulate the kind of place I would want to be – perhaps it’s easier said than done.

We have already chatted about your reviews, do you make time for other social media channels?

I know I have said it before, but aesthetics are so important to me, so for that reason I love Instagram and it is where you will find me most. We use Yelp for reviews but I have to admit, it has been new to me – the idea of interacting online when we could have chatted in the café seems a missed opportunity to me. On the flipside, I love that people are taking the time to share their experiences and their photos – that is amazing. I have people discover us and come check us out because those people have taken the time to write those reviews so I am definitely embracing it.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Wine. Seems a natural progression from coffee. You should check out Fish Shop – amazing wine and food.

If you were sitting here now with yourself 10 years ago, what would you say?

I would take more risks. 10 years ago I was in the Irish education system, and going to college was what everyone I knew was doing. There was no immediate pressure for me to go to college and I was lucky to have those choices, but I put a lot of weight on that formal education. When I was 24, I graduated with the sense that I had wasted time playing safe. You can walk into a kitchen and ask for a job, that’s training and it can shape your future more effectively than formal education. I never took those options seriously.

Let’s time travel again – where do you want to be 1 year from now?

Stability, still here! Right now things are good, but every hour of every day is different – I would love to know what to expect day to day .. even week to week would be nice.

Okay last question, since your coffee love affair started in Paris leave us with your top coffee pick in Paris?

Easy – Hexagon

Follow Brian’s adventures @MeetMeInTheMorning or ask us your Yelp questions @yelpforbusiness.