Their Java Nerves Steady, Coffeehouse Owners Don’t Fear a Glut


A monstrous, metal machine sits in the display window of the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co.

Surrounding it, stacked along the floor, are burlap sacks filled with coffee beans. The machine, a Diedrich Coffee Roaster, is the centerpiece at the month-old coffeehouse on Ojai Avenue.

Across the street sits the Local Hero coffeehouse and bookstore, which opened in November. Although Local Hero’s window display emphasizes its books, owner Bobby Houston is trained in the art of coffee making, and coffee and literature get fairly equal play at the establishment.

The two new businesses, located a bean’s throw away from one another, are among the latest additions to a growing collection of coffeehouses in Ventura County.


According to Ventura County’s Environmental Health Division, about two dozen coffeehouses or other types of coffee-selling enterprises were granted operating permits in the county in 1995.

Most of those businesses, like the two new Ojai coffeehouses, are privately owned. A couple are associated with larger chains, such as Seattle-based Starbuck’s Coffee Co. with five shops in the county, including outlets opened last year in Port Hueneme and Ventura.

Despite the growing number of local coffeehouses, those in the business say they don’t fear a Java glut.

“I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were chuckling about how people were talking about this area being saturated with coffeehouses. But just look at how many there are in Seattle,” said Betsy Clapp, co-owner of the Full of Beans coffeehouse in Ventura. “This area has a lot of coffeehouses, but its still wanting for good coffeehouses.”

Full of Beans, on Seaward Avenue a block from the beach, has been in business about 10 months. Because of its location, Clapp said, the shop depends heavily on sunny, warm weather to bring in the customers.

“When we first went into winter, there was a pretty dramatic dip in our sales, 40% to 50%,” she said. “But now it’s down only 20% to 30%, drawing not from tourists but from locals.”


Ron Fiducia, co-owner of the Coffee Connection) in Simi Valley, said one needn’t go as far as Seattle for evidence of how an area can support a cluster of coffeehouses. “Look at Santa Barbara County or Los Angeles County. They have far more coffeehouses per capita than we do,” he said.

“I’m sure, as with anything, saturation is possible,” Fiducia said. “We’ve seen business people here who don’t really have a love for coffee, and they go out of business. You need to take the time to learn what kind of coffee to buy, how to brew it and serve it, and then be consistent with it.”

In February, Fiducia and his partner, Scott Hinton, will mark the second anniversary of their East Los Angeles Avenue business. Fiducia said they’ve seen a steady growth in sales from the start.

“Our business has increased every month since we opened,” he said. “We’ve noticed more people are coming in now knowing what they want, instead of looking at the menu. More and more people are getting used to gourmet coffee.”

Area coffeehouse owners say half the battle of operating a successful business has been educating the public about specialty coffees. The more coffeehouses there are, they say, the quicker the learning process.

“The more people enjoy gourmet coffee, the less who will buy it in grocery stores,” Fiducia said. “Nine dollars a pound seems expensive compared to $4 a pound, but once they get used to gourmet coffee, they aren’t going to drink the cheaper coffee.”


Ron Tanner, spokesman for the National Assn. for the Specialty Food Trade, said the coffeehouse business continues on the upswing throughout the country, in large part because it has a high potential to turn a profit.

“People view it as a good business to get into,” he said. “A cup of coffee, with just a little bit of coffee and a little bit of water for ingredients, can cost as little as 10 cents to make. The profit margin is very high.”

Tanner said a coffeehouse can get up and running for about $10,000 minimum, not including lease costs, depending on the quality of machinery and scope of service.

“It’s a business that generally doesn’t take a lot of capital to get started, compared to a clothing store or a restaurant,” Tanner said. “The growth rate isn’t as much as several years ago, but it’s still continuing to grow.”

Stacey Jones of Ojai Coffee Roasting Co. said the boom in the industry creates a healthy competition. “With more coffeehouses, its going to make everyone have to produce a better product,” she said. “It’s going to make consumers look for a better product.”

At the same time, said Clapp, the business is also attracting people who aren’t all that serious about putting out a quality cup of coffee.


“People are being opportunistic, opening their businesses and then turning over the operation to teenagers who put out bad drinks,” she said. “It’s a disservice to the industry.”

Dave Paglia, owner of the 2 West Coffee Co. in downtown Ventura, said that like any businesses, coffeehouses will need to keep up with ever-changing consumer demands.

“Coffee has been around for hundreds of years, so you can’t say people will stop drinking it. But at some point, if you don’t evolve with the times, you won’t keep the clientele,” he said. “I think like many things, this is a fad, or a trend.”