How to Launch a Popular Coffee Shop in Washington, DC
The coffee industry is booming.
An estimated 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed by the world’s population each day. And according to data analyst and astronomer James Davenport, 80 percent of Americans live within 20 miles of a Starbucks.
When Howard Schultz launched the now ubiquitous Seattle-based Starbucks, he pioneered the “third place” concept. The ultimate goal was to make Starbucks the “third place between work and home.”
But despite the pervasiveness of Starbucks, Americans (and dare I say particularly Washingtonians) crave a more curated, boutique coffee shop experience. Some may call this “third wave coffee,” a more artisanal appreciation of the brew. Urban coffee addicts in the nation’s capital seek unique coffee shop hangouts where they can enjoy a carefully crafted cup while they socialize, study, or read.
The bustling atmosphere and effusive Yelp reviews are a few indications that Baked & Wired leads the pack of DC coffee shops (and there are quite a few). It is best known for its wide variety of moist baked fare and “hippie crack,” (homemade granola). Customers may come for the baked goods, but they stick around for the coffee shop’s eclectic indie style and welcoming, unpretentious ambiance.
On the Importance of Taking Your Time
The Velazquez family has long known the perks of the coffee industry.
In 2001, Tony and Teresa Velazquez opened Baked & Wired on a picturesque Georgetown block. The couple previously had a graphic design shop in the neighborhood.
“I’ve been married to my wife for almost 30 years and we’ve always worked together,” Tony says.
When they opened Baked & Wired, neither of them had a formal coffee or baking background. Their success boils down to three key ingredients: time, patience, and an amazing attention to detail. They observed the burgeoning coffee industry for 10 years before they made their move.
“It was mostly chain coffee shops,” Tony says of the industry at the time.
As a result, they decided to carve out their own niche in a Starbucks-centric, “second wave coffee” era.
The couple launched themselves headfirst into their new endeavor, absorbing as much information as possible while on the job. “I think part of the reason we are successful is because we were in no rush. We did it slow. We always asked how to turn it up a notch. ”
On Finding Magic in the Details
From their gluten-free cupcake to the cafe’s open-plan seating, the entire family has a zealous approach to detail.
“It took us a year to come up with a gluten-free cupcake. We wanted the perfect recipe, ” Tony says. Similarly, their iced coffee took them months to develop. They looked at every possible factor to make the best cold brew, from the steep time to the different grinds.
Tony, an architect of Puerto Rican descent, designed the space with the help of his son. Over time, he’s noticed some dramatic changes in people’s attitude to coffee consumption.
“We spent years teaching customers about the product. People used to expect a giant cup of coffee and we had to show them the value of a smaller craft cup of coffee.”
Teresa Velazquez hails from Ohio, and is the baker of the family, creating all the beloved baked good recipes. Though she didn’t have a formal baking background, she tackled recipes with determination and enthusiasm, churning out favorites like the curiously-named “Chocolate Cupcake of Doom.”
On Building a Coffee Empire From the Ground(s) Up
Although it may have started with Tony and Teresa, now the whole Velazquez family plays a part in the business. Years ago, daughter Tessa Velazquez, 26, started working in the store during her summers off from school. Now, she is the Operations Director, orchestrating a million different processes and making sure they all go smoothly.
She had planned to go to graduate school to study psychology, but took a small detour, deciding to work at the shop for a year. However, she couldn’t help but fall in love with the shop’s energy.
“The staff comes from all walks of life and we had a great relationship with our customers. Everyone just loves being there. It was rare to find that in any job.”
“Now I’m in the school of Baked & Wired.”
Her brother, Zak Velazquez, 28, manages the coffee program, and he shares his family’s unrelenting attention to detail. He customized a special espresso machine called “the Slayer” for the shop. To deepen his expertise, he also traveled to Portland and Seattle, cities famed for their forward-thinking approach to coffee consumption. Under his watchful eye, new hires at Baked & Wired are trained in the art of crafting coffee.
After all this time, you may be wondering what their family dynamic is like. “For the most part, we just get each other. We know what our flaws are and what our best qualities are,” says Tessa.
On Remaining True to Yourself
Tony believes that in any endeavor, whether it’s a cup of coffee or a new business venture, being faithful to yourself and your ideas is key.
“Have a concept you feel comfortable with, and remain faithful. Once you start diluting it, failure is around the corner.”
In 2015, the family brought their zealous approach to detail and unique personality to their newer outpost, A Baked Joint, in Mount Vernon. There, customers can sample a variety of spreads atop toasted, freshly baked bread.
The options range from the ever-dependable butter and jam, to the more adventurous peanut butter with Sriracha drizzle.
“You don’t want what everyone else has, you want your own soul in it,” Tony says, looking back on fifteen years of Baked & Wired navigating its own identity in a world of coffee chains.
Undoubtedly an important lesson that transcends your everyday cup of joe.
Photoshoot by Leah Beilhart