Many people know Kaldi's as much for our welcoming retail spaces as much as our specialty coffee blends and single origin coffees. Just as much thought goes into these cafe spaces as those programs, and for 25 years we have worked to perfect and continually improve our spaces for our guests and team members in St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, and Columbia, MO.
Here, we discuss this process in more detail and give some insight into the thought that goes into crafting the welcoming feeling we strive for.
There are two main things we look at when opening or remodeling cafes: guest experience and team member experience.
From the team member’s point of view, we want their work to be as comfortable as possible, so they can focus on the guests’ needs. The team member experience is based largely around the espresso machine, as that is what sees the most action. We put the machine a little higher than the rest of the counter to make it more comfortable to use. We also have everything you need to make espresso drinks within reach, the milk fridge, ice bin, grinders, pitchers, pitcher rinser, and syrups. Our hand-brew bars and taps are usually close too, in case team members working together need to make a hand brew or serve a cold brew. Our sparkling water taps are built into those taps, for when we serve traditional espresso drinks with sparkling water.
What guests don’t see is the storage behind the front counter. We have built in shelving and drawers specifically intended for different aspects of a team member’s day. From pre-dosed tea tins in drawers, to back-up 5lb coffee bags on shelves, even to bakery trays on built-in shelves below the bakery display to make restocking easier.
If you’ve worked in a cafe (or really any service job), you know storage is a premium. We build in as much as we can in the front of house to save space in the back of house. Making storage work is really important too to save space for guest seating.
Our back of house is similarly thought-out. Generally, we have a hot-side and a cold-side. The hot side is for burritos, flatbreads, hashes, and the like. The cold side is for avocado toasts, sandwiches, and salads. Team members working in the back-of-house generally stick to one side or the other, especially when it’s busy. While that is happening, we also have a team member doing prep, so we need space for them as well. To top it all off, we bake almost all of our bakery in-house every day, so the bakers need space to bake and prep. Luckily, the bakers work early enough in the morning that they can share the prep space with a different team member who uses it later in the day.
As you can see, there is a lot of thought that goes into how to best lay out a cafe from a team member’s point of view. When remodeling cafes, we always include team members in the discussion to discuss what works and what can be improved upon. Nobody knows the cafe better than them. And if they’re happy with their workspace, they can better focus on the guest experience.
When remodeling cafes, we always include team members in the discussion to discuss what works and what can be improved upon. Nobody knows the cafe better than them.
From the guests’ point of view, we want the cafe to be welcoming, first and foremost. We want each guest to feel that each cafe is their own. We do that by mirroring the neighborhoods in which our cafes reside. A cafe in St. Louis’s busy Central West End is going to look different from a cafe in a suburb of St. Louis is going to look different from a cafe on Emory University’s campus outside Atlanta. The neighborhoods are reflected in the decor of the cafe as well as the layout of the cafe.
We can use our recently remodeled Kirkwood cafe as an example. We first opened that store in 2005. When we opened, it was more cafe than coffeeshop. Our espresso machine was even in the back of house in an open kitchen-type plan. We did a small remodel around 2010 when we moved the espresso machine to the front bar and enclosed the kitchen.
We want each guest to feel that each cafe is their own. We do that by mirroring the neighborhoods in which our cafes reside.
There are 3 main entrances to the cafe, which makes the flow a little trickier to navigate as compared to our store in the Central West End in St. Louis, MO. By now, anyone who’s been in the store once knows how it’s supposed to work. But that intentional thought of guest flow is really important, especially in a busy cafe like Kirkwood. Once you enter the cafe, there is one main queue line that starts at the POS and wraps around the bakery case, merchandise, and hand-brew bar. This is both to help give the line a place to go as well as to inspire guests to pick up merchandise, watch one of our baristas make a hand-brewed cup of coffee or tea, or spark a sweet tooth and order a baked good.
Once the guest places an order, they walk past the espresso machine to wait for their drink. Once they get their drink, if needed, they can go to the condiment bar, away from the main order and espresso area. This gives them time to fix up their coffee how they want without pressure from other guests or staff waiting for them to finish. It also clears up the main order and espresso area for the next guests to wait. If the guest ordered food, they have a number and find a table to sit at where we bring the food out to them.
Our seating at Kirkwood hasn’t changed much since we opened. We like to do a mix of dining height, bar height, and soft seating areas. We also mix in booths, community tables, and solo seats. We have hundreds of different types of people in our cafes. And all of those people enjoy the cafe their own way. Some people are with groups, others with a partner, and some alone. We want each guest to feel welcome to enjoy Kaldi’s how they want to enjoy Kaldi’s.
We want each guest to feel welcome to enjoy Kaldi’s how they want to enjoy Kaldi’s.
That being said, however, we do treat seating differently in the Central West End than we do in Kirkwood. The Euclid cafe is in a busy part of the Central West End, surrounded by hospitals and universities. Knowing this, we provided much more bar seating than we normally would, as many of our guests in that cafe are by themselves studying or taking a break. Our queue line there is more direct as well. While there are two entrances, both converge on the main line. Once you’re in line, the rest of the process is the same as Kirkwood’s: merchandise, bakery, POS, espresso machine, drink pick-up, condiment bar, exit or seating.
As mentioned before, each cafe has its own unique style that reflects the neighborhood. So while the flow is largely the same (and something we’re always perfecting, even 25 years after first opening), the decor and style is unique, yet still remaining a “Kaldi’s”. Everything from the finishes, to the furniture, to the decor, to even the espresso machine is made with intent.
Our furniture and finishes have to hold up to hundreds of people, which is no small feat. We have worked with some great architecture firms over the years that have helped guide us in the right direction in picking these things out. Our furniture suppliers are ones with whom we’ve built relationships with over the years. All of it is American-made and some of it is even custom-made. Our cabinetry and detailing is all custom-made by a long-standing partner of ours. Each detail is selected to be cohesive, design-forward, and welcoming. We use the same tables and chairs in most of our cafes, sometimes changing the colors or finishes to match that specific cafe’s environment.
Each detail is selected to be cohesive, design-forward, and welcoming.
The finishing touches in our cafes come down to texture. Plants provide a natural, bright color to the cafes. Details from wallpaper to soft seating, to pillows provide different textures and pops of color. And shelf decor and artwork accentuate and highlight those details, tying everything together, so that when you walk into one of our cafes, you both instantly know it’s a Kaldi’s, and instantly feel at home.