As a native New Yorker, Andre Muñoz came of age during the peak of 90s youth culture which centered around street life, skate shops, and an irreverent creative spirit. Streetwear was emerging, hip-hop was exploding, and downtown New York was at the epicenter of it all. He found himself working at various clothing stores that embodied that character and sold that culture: XLarge, Stussy, Recon, Adidas and Union.
Wanting to contribute to the landscape of shops that helped raise him, Andre started his first business with Michael Leung in 2007 on Delancey and Bowery, aptly named Consortiums New York. “The idea was that everyone was working towards one common goal which was to come up together as a community. I was the guy with the shop, my friends could sell their things, and we could all benefit.”
Four years later and three into the recession, Andre found it challenging to grow his business on an underdeveloped strip of lower Manhattan. “I love being a pioneer to a certain extent, but I don’t have that much time to waste.” In 2012, he moved to his current location on East 11th Street, rebranded the company as Catalogue, and switched his focus to imported clothing from Japan and South Korea.
One year later, Andre realized he was struggling to revive a “90s idea” of a shop community. “Now people are buying everything online. It doesn’t make sense to have a physical location if you’re not in a service-based industry.” Wanting to get back to his roots in person-to-person interaction, he started looking at businesses he could grow with the neighborhood. “It was either going to be this or a tailor shop but I don’t know anything about tailoring,” he says with a laugh.
In three short months, Andre and Michael renovated their storefront from shop to cafe, went to barista school for extensive training in the art of espresso drinks, and learned that running a business — no matter what type — is always a work in progress.
WORDS & PHOTOS BY MIA SAKAI
You had two shops prior to Honey Haus, both of which sold clothing and accessories. Why switch to coffee?
Consortiums New York, which was later renamed Catalogue, was based on a 90s idea of a store that involved a person-to-person interaction where a guy would come in, you’d talk shop, hang out, he’d buy a shirt, and I’d love working there. It used to be all about small mom-and-pops that were cool and personable and doing their own things. I loved that. But with the internet and e-commerce, and the way New York is evolving and changing, that type of direct interaction — that “cool shop” downtown feeling — is missing. Now, every guy wants to find the best thing for the cheapest price possible. And more and more, it’s all online. I wanted to get back to doing something that was more person-to-person again.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by “90s idea” and what about present-day New York makes it less conducive to supporting that type of business?
When I say “90s idea” I mean up until 1997, you could still have a bullshit $300 a week job, live with a couple of roommates, and do what you came here to do, which was generally either art, music, fashion, video, or whatever. Now New York is so expensive that you can’t do that anymore. Kids have to work three jobs just to pay rent, they don’t have time to do what they came here to do, and they’re forced out within a year. So nothing really happens here. New York just kinda stays stagnant. Of course, there are some kids that are working their asses off and doing really cool things. It’s just that now they have to work ten times harder to get their ideas out. It wasn’t like that in the 90s because you could afford to live and be creative at the same time.
You transitioned businesses from Catalogue to Honey Haus.
What were your three main steps in that process?
In March 2014 we had the idea to open a coffee shop for $10,000. I thought we could buy this cheap-ass machine and this horrible thing and be done with it. But the more we researched, it was like, that’s cheap, that’s horrible, that’s not right. So we went from trying to do a bullshit coffee shop to doing a really great coffee shop.
We started interviewing roasters and getting to know them and their product. We went with Counter Culture because we felt most comfortable with them and liked their product the most. We enrolled in their barista school and took espresso fundamentals, learned how to brew and pull shots, steam milk, etc. Basically, we learned how to do things right.
Then we renovated the space. We did everything ourselves including the venetian plaster, the counter, the electrical work, the plumbing. It was REAL. But it was a cool process because we were building towards something. Originally, we wanted to open in July 2014 but ended up opening in early August due to a shipping delay for our espresso machine.
Did you work out a business plan or are you winging it as you go?
The first business plan I wrote was for Consortiums and included where I wanted to be, what I wanted to carry, how was I going to survive. Plus, of course, the numbers which are the most important part. I could talk all day about what I wanna do — which is cool and fine and dandy — but if the numbers aren’t correct, then it’s just fluff. No one cares what I wanna do unless I can say it’ll cost X, Y and Z. Figuring that out was a struggle. At that point everything is in theory; nothing is written in stone. Once you open, you have to stay on top of the numbers because the business is always going to change and grow. You’re documenting your own thing that you started. It’s like you had a kid and you’re taking pictures of him as he grows and you want to see how he grows. The same thing applies to your business — you want to be able to look back and say what did I do right and what did I do wrong. So the business plan for Honey Haus was an expansion of the original one I wrote.
Are you willing to talk about your budget for opening Honey Haus? Specifically, what you started with and where it went?
I’ll put it like this: if you start out with $25K, it’s best to have another $25K on reserve because you’re going to make mistakes. It’s all a learning process. If you think your business is gonna cost you $25K-$30K to start, make sure you have $50K-$60K total. That way you know you’re covered. Especially in New York, shit doubles quick. Always have double the amount that you initially think you’ll need. You don’t want to get to opening weekend and be like, “Gotta close up cause we’re broke and homeless!” As far as budget allocation, the biggest portion of outright payout was our La Marzocco espresso machine — like maybe 30%. You have to buy the machines that are adequate for your business. If you open up a restaurant that serves coffee on the side, you don’t really need a La Marzocco. But if you’re opening up a coffee shop and that’s your main thing, then you should invest in the machine that’s right for your business. After all, it’s the reason you have what you have.
New York City’s regulatory world around food and beverage prep and service seems incredibly confusing. How did you figure out exactly what permits you needed to open?
It’s crazy because you don’t know what you need. We had to kind of reverse engineer. Like, we want to sell baked goods but we don’t want to make them. We want to brew coffee, but we don’t want to roast it. It’s so specific business to business and no one has the real answer — not Google or 311 or even www.nyc.gov. You have to figure out exactly what you’re trying to do, then try to figure out the licenses that you need. That alone took us a month. In the end, we needed the Food Protection Certificate and the Food Service Establishment Permit which we had to apply for before we even opened. It takes 21 days to process and you cannot open without it because without it, you’re not up to code and can be shut down. So be mindful and apply for that stuff at least two months before you plan on opening.
A common challenge for business owners is assembling and retaining a talented and committed staff. What did you look for during the hiring process?
Out the gates, we needed baristas. We could do it ourselves but we were doing so many other things at the same time like building a website, designing a sign, doing the renovations, applying for the permits. I can wear a whole bunch of hats but at a certain point I can’t wear every hat. So we needed to find experienced baristas that had their own Food Protection Certificates, were responsible and qualified, and met our standards and needs. It was a headache but in the end we found the right people and they’re all amazing. Plus, for every five we might hire, maybe one hangs around. The first day we opened, one of the people we hired just didn’t show up. That was fucking nuts. Like we had somebody scheduled and they just decided not to show up. Finding the right people might take you a couple of weeks or even a couple of months — it just doesn’t happen with the first people you meet.
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There are a million and one coffee shops in New York. How do you plan on distinguishing Honey Haus from all the others?
We want to do everything right. Granted, there are a million coffee shops and they’re all great. But all of them are missing certain things. I want to have a great business from bottom to top, which includes the way we talk and interact with customers, the espresso and coffee we serve, the tea we brew, the food we sell, how fresh or organic everything is. We want to make sure everything is top notch from the ground up and we’re still developing that as we go. Everything is always a work in progress and we’ve got to keep making things better. Coffee shops go by the block, you know? There could be a great one two blocks from you, but you don’t go to it because you go to the one on your block. My goal is bigger than just servicing 11th Street, but at the same time, this is our start so we want to be the best on this block. Once we get past that goal, then we can work towards being the best coffee shop in the East Village.
How are you getting the word out about Honey Haus? How much do you think PR and social media matter versus location and foot traffic?
I think that varies business to business. When you open something, you should think about what you need for whatever it is you’re providing. Like if you’re opening a deli, you probably don’t need a Facebook page. But if you’re opening a specialty tie shop, you might need PR or social media as a stronghold. Right now we’re in the ten years after the first real internet boom, so we’re kind of seeing what applies to certain instances. You have to be sensitive to what you’re selling and also think about what can benefit the business. Like how does Twitter or Instagram fit into my world? If you can’t figure it out, you’re missing something. Being in a service-based industry, we’re dependent on foot traffic and word-of-mouth first. If you leave here today and tell your friends about us, that’s creating organic growth. Do we need social media for that? Not right now. We will get to that point, but first I want to build a name and a foundation of regulars through the service we provide and the coffee we serve. Then we’ll get into social media.
This is your second business. What’s easier the second time around and what remains challenging?
My headspace has gotten easier. When you open a business for the first time, you tend to stay in your head and constantly think about every little detail. Everything has to be perfect — from customer interaction, to the website, to the way the store looks and smells. I’m still worried about those things, but at the same time I’m less worried because I know I can adapt and change. The challenging part is that it’s my first venture in coffee and I don’t have a background in coffee shops. So it’s challenging because it’s new. I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t. Everything is a work in progress and it’s never perfect. But realizing and understanding that is half the battle.
What advice what you give to future boutique/coffee shop owners that are doing it for the first time?
Have a plan, read it five times and edit it five times. Keep editing your plan and making it better and perfecting it. What I mean by that is to make sure your numbers are correct because the numbers are the most important thing. Aside from that, just make sure your idea is different and addresses the flaws you see in similar businesses. Then read your plan, edit it again and read over it five more times until it’s perfect and you can’t even question it. Then you’re good.
In HAUS Reading
Lois, George. Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!). New York: Phaidon Press, 2012.
Bridges, John. How to Be a Gentleman. 1998. Reprint. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2008.
More on Honey Haus
O’Regan, Kirsten. “The Honey House, a New Coffee Bar On a Pretty Sweet Block.” www.bedfordandbowery.com. August 7, 2014.
“Honey Haus.” www.sideways.nyc.
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