I started my own non-profit coffee shop, and here's why.

Ummah Coffee, a non-profit coffee shop I cofounded.

Role

Cofounder & Barista

Tools

Coffee (:

Deliverable

A fully functional coffee shop to serve +10,000 people.

The Problem

COVID had a big impact on the muslim community, and many people are no longer accustomed to coming to the mosque. What can we do to re-engage the community, and bring people into the mosque on a consistent basis?

The Research

After surveying the community members who were regularly coming, we noticed a large amount of people would go to coffee shops down the street and spend hours on end talking and drinking with their friends and families. We immediately saw an opportunity in this observation, as we hypothesized that if we could get that same large group of people to stay within the mosque for their drinks and social time, that would result in a increase in the amount of people attending classes, praying in the mosque regularly, etc.

Furthermore, the executive board mentioned that another primary goal for the coming year is to re-engage the youth with the programs and overall community. What can we do to increase the engagement of the entire community, with a special focus on the youth.

The Solution

After doing some initial research, my partner and I hypothesized that building a coffee shop within the mosque may be able to tackle both of our key goals. Since a large amount of community members would drive down the street just for coffee — is it possible that they could spend that same time staying inside the community center if the coffee was brought to them?

The more time members spend inside the center, the more likely people are to get exposure to current programs and classes, and thus be more engaged with the community.Furthermore, we knew that much of the younger crowd spends their own time at hip, modern coffee shops while working remotely and meeting with friends.

We thought perhaps a coffee shop inside the mosque would be able to tackle both of our main goals: engaging the community as a whole, with a specific focus on the youth.In an effort to support the youth, we decided to make the cafe 100% non-profit — and that all proceeds would directly fund new youth programs like summer camps, classes, and more.

Pre-Marketing & Validation

Opening a coffee shop requires a big initial sunk cost, and we wanted to validate our coffee shop idea before throwing too much capital into it. We began to post on social media channels and ask friends and members what they thought about having a coffee shop inside the center. Furthermore, we reached out to other mosques who had done something similar across the country. We spent hours on zoom calls with other community centers to listen to their advice, biggest issues, and what they’d wish they known beforehand.

Thankfully, everyone we spoke to was more than willing to give us both qualitative and quantitative data on costs, revenue, and adoption numbers.Once we received significant traction and interest from community members, and heard that the the shops were working well in other centers, we knew it was time to execute.

Execution

We decided to name the shop “Ummah Coffee” — which translates in Arabic to “Community Coffee”, to signal the overall vision behind the space. The coffee itself wasn’t so important, but rather the community engagement and revival that could occur through the coffee.

The grand launch took place during the holy month of Ramadan, a period we knew had the highest traffic in the community center. To our delight, the grand launch was a huge hit—we completed over 1000 orders in the first few hours of opening and community members were in line for hours to get a first taste.

Outside of high order numbers and long lines, we also got a significant amount of idea validation for the coffee shop. In the coming days and weeks, community members continued to return to the space to work remotely, sit with friends after events, or just stop by for some beautiful latte art. Furthermore, social media posts were full of young community members spending hours in the shop. To our utmost delight, we were able to see immediate progress on our two goals of engaging the community overall with a specific focus on the youth.

Phase 2

Once we had a decently successful launch, we were certain the initial hype and excitement would only last so long. People would soon forget about the cafe and stop coming to the mosque, and we needed something to continually bring people back into the space. To combat this, we opened a Programs Division with Ummah Coffee, led by community volunteers who have been running events like networking events, board game nights, coffee tastings, and so much more.

Going forward, we plan on expanding the type and frequency of events to keep community engagement high.

Coffee as a Product.

Despite coffee being a physical/retail space, my partner and I chose to pursue this idea in a very “startup” and “productized” manner. We strive to follow best practices like market validation before large capital investments, and offering true value to keep our customers returning on a regular basis. Following the lean startup model enabled us to not only create our proposed idea, but to do so in a cost-friendly and effective manner.

As of now, Ummah Coffee is working on opening a second location in downtown Seattle, which will also be 100% non-profit!