Retail Wednesday: Vacancy Coffee

EDITOR’S NOTE: In an effort to diversify our weekly content, we are taking a look at shops outside of the traditional retail model as part of our Retail Wednesday series, powered by our friends over at Building the Revolution.

Vacancy Coffee Shop is a new model that’s gaining traction in its Newport, Calif. surf community.

While not a traditional retail space for the surf community, Vacancy is led by several industry vets who have decided to switch up that model and make it their own.

Locally-owned and curated coffee shops are popping up just about everywhere, and more and more business owners are finding creative ways to work the format into their space— or work hand-in-hand with baristas in their neighborhoods.

Vacancy has scored some prime real estate on the PCH in Newport and also has a strong community following, setting them apart from some of the others. We checked in with Co-owner Jye Townend to hear more about the business and why they saw a void in the market for great coffee.

Retailer: Vacancy Coffee
Type of Business: Coffee Bar
Location: Newport Beach CA
Opened: March 2017
Interviewees: Jye Townend, Mitchell Hayes, Oliver and Bonnie Williams
Job Title: Owners

Why did you decide to open the Vacancy Coffee Bar?
Jye Townend: Number one reason is our love of coffee. We really felt that this area had the potential for the type of coffee bar we wanted to create. It was something that we'd considered doing for some time and when a friend of ours had a vacant space in his building we thought it was too perfect of an opportunity to pass up.

vacancy coffee

The coffee shop model prides itself on the most customized service—something that sets them apart from big chains.

How has business been since you opened?
Business has been great, so far it's exceeded our expectations and we've been overwhelmed by the positive feedback we've been given. It's been getting busier and busier as we head towards summer. The local community has been really supportive; a quality coffee shop is something that they had all been waiting for. We're excited for what's to come.

With the three of you coming from strong surf backgrounds, why did you decide on coffee as opposed to opening your own version of a surf shop? Retail for surf right now is in a hard place as the consumer shops for those products in such a different way now more than ever. Plus in this area there are already great surf shops that we would rather support than compete with like Froghouse, Jacks, and Surfside. There was a void for good coffee not a good surf shop.

Clean lines and a modern aesthetic accent the interior design at Vacancy.

What are you doing to stand out in an industry dominated by Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Peets, and other coffee giants? The two things that set us apart is our coffee and our culture. Our coffee is our priority, nothing on our machine has an auto button. From the grind, to the dose and the pour, it's all manual and measured to the second and by the gram. Secondly, it's our culture. We want every customer to feel welcome and our baristas happily explain and educate our customers that are curious on the science of the perfect coffee and all the different beans that are available.

What have you taken away from your experience in the surf industry that you can either apply to the coffee shop business, or at least has guided you to “not make the same mistakes” in this new endeavor? I think the biggest thing you can apply is build great relationships with your customers whether it’s your retail partners, surf shop consumer or coffee enthusiast they all want to have a relationship with you. Be there for them and develop that relationship to cater to their needs.

It is simple, but we call it home ~ #vacancycoffee

A post shared by Vacancy Coffee Bar (@vacancy_coffee) on

How are your vendors helping Vacancy succeed? When it came to our vendors we put a lot of thought into what products we wanted to stock and who we wanted to work with. We made the choice early on that we wanted to use local products where possible and support companies and suppliers who were doing their bit to create products with a minimal environmental footprint. Our vendors have been great in helping us select great products and providing us the support we need as a start up business.

Your location is on PCH sandwiched between 2 Newport residential areas. What are you doing to get the support of the community?
We are very new to the community, we are still just getting to meet everyone and getting to know as many as we can. We provide the coffee at the Newport Shores community meetings and are working with community leaders to get involved with future events and projects within the area. Without the Shores and Newport community Vacancy wouldn't exist. We appreciate the locals coming in and want to be there to help where we can!

vacancy coffee

Vacancy puts coffee first, but they do have plans to create some special apparel collaborations in the near future.

Do you have any plans to expand the range of your offering or do any special collaborations with brands that are closely tied to the surf space?
We recently did a curation of boards from the Echo Beach era here with the crew from Surfboards and Coffee and our neighbors Banks Journal. The event was amazing and we had guys like Peter Schroff and Lance Collins in the house to talk about that movement. Other than that we want to do a bit more soft goods around the Vacancy brand and expand our food offerings. But coffee first! What advice do you have for anyone who would like to start their own independent business? Take the leap! But be prepared for lots of hard work and build out your plan. But if you believe in it and you're passionate about it, the odds are stacked in your favor and the satisfaction of seeing your idea come to life and people enjoying it is a pretty damn good feeling. In this current climate people are always searching for an independent alternative to spend their time and money, instead of the many corporate style settings that exist. Just make sure whatever business you are in that you try and put a smile on all your customers faces when they leave.