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What Licenses Do You Need to Open a Coffee Shop?

What Licenses Do You Need to Open a Coffee Shop?

It’s time: You’re ready to open your own local java joint. But what licenses do you need to open a coffee shop? Where do you need to sign on the dotted line?

There’s more to running a successful coffee shop than just great coffee.

(Although trust us—great coffee really does help.)

Coffee Shop Licenses and Permits to Be Aware of

If you’re in the beginning stages of opening a coffee shop, remember that, just like any other business, there’s some paperwork you have to do first—things like state and local permits, construction permits, business licenses, and more.

Here’s a jump start on what you’ll need to give your cafe or coffee shop the jolt it needs to get going.

Put that Pen Down! Thoughts on Zoning Before You Sign a Lease for a Coffee Shop

Before you put pen to paper and sign a lease for your coffee shop, be sure to check that the space you intend to rent is zoned appropriately.

But have no fear if your dream location isn’t properly zoned—you’re not out of luck yet. If that little shop you’ve always had your eye on to roast coffee and provide eye-pleasing latte art but it’s not in the right zone, you still have some options:

  • You can apply to get the property rezoned for a business that serves food and beverages.
  • You can apply for a variance use permit from your local government’s planning department. (This is sometimes also called a conditional use permit.)

And here’s another tip from your friendly neighborhood coffee shop business experts:

Make your business lease contingent on getting the proper zoning permissions.

A reasonable landlord will understand this kind of contingency, but if not, it’s wise to look elsewhere. Otherwise, you may be locked into a lease you can’t use.

What other factors can zoning laws regulate that may play into whether or not you really want that space? Considerations and restrictions for things like:

  • Availability of off-street parking
  • Water and air quality
  • Waste disposal
  • Placement, size, and design for signs
What Licenses Do You Need to Open a Coffee Shop - Checking Street Parking Availability

Other Zoning Factors to Consider for Your Coffee Shop

There may be other zoning factors at play depending on where you choose to offer up coffee brews. For example, if you are thinking about signing a lease for a property located in a historic district, you may have to contend with stricter zoning regulations—even as far as requesting permission to make small changes like paint color or light fixtures.

But don’t let these stipulations scare you away! Trust your gut: If you’ve got the perfect spot in mind for your new coffee shop, a few extra forms to complete or hoops to jump through may all be worth it for the appealing storefront you’ve always dreamed about—and the charming storefront your future customers are sure to love.


"I Have a Shop Location. What’s Next?" Getting Your Building Ready for Business

You found the perfect spot to serve up flat whites and cold brews, but what’s next? Do you go ahead and get an architect to start making the changes to your location? What steps do you take to get started on your sweet little shop while also going through all the proper channels?

The truth of the matter is, getting your building ready for business will vary slightly based on where you’re located. Some states and municipalities have very specific guidelines and building codes to contend with, and there may be other factors like zoning requirements or historical building codes that you have to consider as well.

Unless you’re only planning to do really minor renovations, chances are pretty high that you will need at least one building on construction permit from your local government’s building ordinances and codes department. And it’s important to note here that you may need additional permits for things like:

  • Electrical work
  • Plumbing
  • Heating and cooling
  • Ventilation

A Note About Building Codes

It’s no well-kept secret that building codes change often—or that each of these updates asks more of a new building’s owner or tenant.

So, do a little research about your space’s building codes and what may need to change before it’s ready for move-in. Some municipalities exempt current or existing businesses from having to achieve compliance with new regulations. Just because there was a similar business (a cafe or brunch spot, perhaps) in your property before doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a cinch for you to get compliant with new codes. As the new tenant, there may be additional requirements at play.

What Are Your Building’s Unique Requirements?

When you’re ready to get started, remember that you don’t have to figure all of this out on your own. If you hire an experienced architect or contractor, they can help wade through all the red tape to figure out which building and safety codes apply to your space—as well as how much it might cost to get your space ready and ensure you’re compliant.

And, if you’ve chosen a property or space with particularly complicated or confusing building codes, you might want to consider reaching out to an attorney specializing in property law to navigate it all.

Get Your Permit! What Licenses Do You Need to Open a Coffee Shop?

You’ve got your business plan all ready to go, and you’ve picked a winning coffee distributor (Hey, that’s us!) that’s sure to keep customers coming back time and time again. While you may be fully caffeinated and ready to go, your business may not be there just yet. Here’s a checklist of the kinds of licenses you might need to apply for when opening a coffee shop:

  • A business license: You’ve got to go through the proper channels with Uncle Sam by applying to your local government. They’ll ask you to share things like the name, location, and type of business you plan to start. Requirements and fees for this license vary based on where you live.

  • A food service establishment permit: Your business will have to comply with food and safety standards and be set up to help prevent foodborne illnesses. You can get more details about this permit—and its requirements—from your local health department.

  • A fire department permit: Another thing your local government officials will want to know is that you’re taking all necessary precautions to keep people safe. A fire department permit will account for ensuring you have things like fire extinguishers, properly marked exits, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, and smoke detectors.
  • What Licenses Do You Need to Open a Coffee Shop - Sign Permits
    A sign permit: This one may catch you by surprise, but if you plan to display a sign out front of your coffee shop, you may need a permit depending on where you live. This just ensures that the sign you install matches all community and zoning regulations.

  • An alcohol license: If you plan to serve Gin Fizzes or Old Fashioneds after work hours, you’ll need to acquire a license to do it. You may opt for just a beer and wine license, or a full liquor license, based on the menu you plan to offer.

  • A POS system license: In some areas, local governments ask that business owners acquire a POS system license. These licenses are designed to ensure that the point-of-sale system you choose meets standards for things like security, accuracy, and data protection.

Additional Coffee Shop Licenses and Permits

Depending on where you live, you may need to apply for additional coffee shop licenses and permits including:

  • A sales tax permit: If your state has a sales tax, this license is necessary for you to properly connect local and state taxes and remit them. A good POS system can track your sales so you can report your sales correctly. (And here’s your reminder that your state sales tax permit will need to be on full display in your shop!)
  • A reseller’s license: If you plan to sell goods that you acquire from other businesses (Might we suggest fresh bags of Dilworth’s coffee beans?), you will need a reseller’s license so you don’t have to pay sales tax for these items.
  • A food handler’s permit: The laws surrounding these permits can vary greatly from state to state, but in many areas, you may need a food handler’s permit, either for your business as a whole or potentially even for each cook or server on your team.

(Psst! This is also a great time to mention that at Dilworth, we offer all kinds of custom-tailored services to get coffee shops up and running, including a full licensing program. You know, since we’ve done all this a time or two…or literally hundreds of times.)

We’re Here for You: Let the Experts at Dilworth Help!

At Dilworth Coffee, we ascribe to the idea that it takes a village to do anything—and that’s why we have all kinds of support and services in place to help eager coffee connoisseurs like yourself get off the ground.

But even as you’re gearing up, we are here to help with everything from what to offer on the menu to setting up a coffee branding program to filling out the proper paperwork for licensing and more.

We’re eager to be part of your village. Ready to see what we can do for you? 

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