Creating a community with coffee

The Coffee Lounge attracts repeat customers interested in drinking organically-farmed coffee

A passion for the business and the desire to build lasting relationships with their customers drive Jennifer Vergara-Selga and Rico Selga to put in nearly 200 combined hours each week in their new downtown Vancouver coffee shop, Coffee Lounge, on Main Street. But the eight to 12 cups of coffee Selga drinks each day helps, too.

“We’ve both been addicted to coffee for a long time,” he said. “It’s a fun job.”

In addition to their love for coffee, the Selgas enjoy meeting people and catering to their growing troop of “regulars.”

“We are trying to build a sense of community,” said Selga. “We take the extra step to make them feel like they are part of a coffee-shop community.”

It’s not just about the coffee or just about customer service, said Vergara-Selga, it’s a mix of both.

The Coffee Lounge opened in early June, just a month after the couple married. They had been planning the opening of the shop since last September.

“We wanted a life change,” said Selga, “We wanted to do something different.” They have both taken more limited roles in their other professions. Vergara-Selga is now a silent partner in an advertising and marketing firm in the Philippines and Selga is down to four-days a week as a registered nurse at Cascade Park Nursing Center. His goal is to leave nursing altogether by the end of the year.

The Selgas said customers are responding well to the shop’s focus of providing organic coffee, a niche they say allows them to remain competitive. Many of the Coffee Lounge’s customers are downtown workers, and while many of them have other coffee shops closer to their offices, they make the walk to the Coffee Lounge to drink organic coffee, said Vergara-Selga. The Coffee Lounge uses coffee supplied by Portland Roasting, a company that buys directly from organic growers at above-market prices, Selga said.

The Selgas chose their 850-square-foot downtown location from several others they considered, because they thought it would attract the right mix of customers. Their target audience included professionals and residents living and working in the vicinity as well as students.

Aside from the long hours involved in running their own business, the biggest challenge has been the city’s permitting process. The time-consuming process has cost them lost revenue, they said. They began leasing their space three months before they opened, but could have begun doing business much earlier if permit approval was more efficient, said the Selgas.

The permitting process is incredibly painful, said Selga. “It needs to be more entrepreneurially friendly. It’s difficult to absorb the cost of the delays.”

More boutiques and locations to purchase clothing and groceries, with nearby free parking, would be a real draw for downtown and help boost business, they said.

With business continuing to rise, the Selgas are looking forward to expanding their selection of snacks, cookies and pastries to include more food, such as sandwiches. They are also looking to add wireless internet service to attract more customers. By offering what customers are asking for, the Selgas hope to be a step ahead of the market.

“We want to be a destination coffee shop,” said Selga.

The Selgas have brought on two part-time employees, but expect to grow jobs as they look to expand their hours.

The couple looks forward to growing together, along with the business.

“We want this business to be something we enjoy and sustains us,” said Vergara-Selga.

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