Americans love coffee, particularly when it's easily accessible and cheap. In Washington State, cities are littered with dozens of convenient coffee shops and stands. Convenient coffee is extremely popular and now is a great time to get your coffee cart business up and running. Though the market may seem saturated, there are still plenty of locations that lack a convenient coffee source. With the right location, prices, products and customer service, your coffee cart business can be a success. The average cost to start a coffee cart is about $20,000.

Step 1.

Choose your location. This is the most important aspect to your coffee cart business. It must be convenient and popular. Analyze customer traffic at locations such as amusement parks, dry cleaners, malls, department stores, school cafeterias, airports, office or hospital lobbies, service stations, car washes, baseball fields, book stores, government buildings, supermarkets and liquor stores. Government buildings and hospitals, which are typically more stable options, are prime locales for a coffee cart. Proposition the owners or property managers about placing your coffee cart in or near their building. Explain to them how your cart will benefit their business. Then speak with your local health department about health, sanitation and zoning regulations.

Step 2.

Obtain the necessary permits such as a sales tax permit, food handlers permit and any other health-related permits. If you will have employees, incorporate your business and apply for a federal tax identification number. Choose a catchy name for your coffee cart.

Step 3.

Design a business plan that includes your goals, obstacles, financial forecasts and how you intend to fund your business. Detail your start-up costs (the coffee cart, espresso machine, grinders, refrigerator case) and your constant costs (rent, disposable supplies such as coffee cups, napkins, utensils and sleeves). Design a theme for your coffee cart.

Step 4.

Sign up for barista training or specialty coffee courses, such as those offered by The American Barista & Coffee School. Call (800) 655-3955 or go to for more information. Spend the time and effort training your employees to produce consistent beverages and demonstrate quality customer service.

Step 5.

Locate a coffee supplier. Contact local bakers if you intend to sell cookies and other pastries. Try out different types of coffee and espresso on friends and family by conducting taste tests. Once you've located a preferred bean, be consistent in how you prepare your drinks. Your coffee is the foundation of your business. A customer needs to know that they can count on you to reproduce that delicious flavor time and again.

Step 6.

Purchase your supplies. A coffee cart can cost $10,000 to $25,000. Determine what you intend to sell and how much space you will need. If you will sell pastries or sandwiches you may need something bigger. Make sure you have enough storage for your supplies. Visit or to see a variety of coffee carts and kiosks. You may also need an espresso machine, a grinder, granita machines, shelving, napkins, utensils, condiments, syrups, branded coffee cups and sleeves for your coffee cups.


Detail all costs in an Excel spreadsheet. Refer to it often to find ways to cut costs. Customer service is of the utmost importance. Be outgoing. If customers like you and your employees, they will be much more likely to return. Visit the IRS website ASAP to familiarize yourself with your tax obligations. As an employer, you will be required to pay a number of taxes, such as payroll taxes, federal and state unemployment taxes as well local taxes. Failure to pay on time can result in penalties.