Tucked in the quiet downtown corner of Saratoga, CA, Elza Himostroza’s Big Basin Cafe proudly serves organic fresh roasted coffee to both early risers and night owls. Visitors are greeted by the welcoming sight of baked goods, Italian gelato, and a large menu of vegetarian, and vegan foods. Quality is Elza’s focus. She will quickly point to their on-site coffee roasting machine and their exotic variety of imported coffee as proof. In the cafe’s comfortable atmosphere, customers couldn’t know the stress Elza endured to establish and run the cafe. Big Basin Cafe is her investment in her family and her future.
I used to be a personal assistant for the elderly. My husband was an engineer. We lost $87,000 in the market crash. My son just graduated from high-school, he had no job, he was depressed. My daughter said, do something good for your son. He was about 18 years old. We wanted him to stay busy; if not, he might go with other people to drink and get in trouble. So my husband and I looked for a place, anything simple. We looked into toys, clothing, cars. We hired a broker. He said a cafe is good, get a cafe. So we found this one. It was a cafe with small drinks; it didn’t have a big menu like we do now. We bought it in February 2011 and on April 1st we opened.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
We used personal money, we wanted to save our 401K. We bought with half cash, half credit from the owner. He gave us a three year loan and we paid it off.
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Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
It was very hard; we suffered for six months to learn everything. My son changed a lot. He had to dedicate all his day to work. He was frustrated at first, but he learned responsibility. We hired a professional latte maker and a master coffee roaster to teach us. We got more furniture, changed the floor. We added a lot of things to the menu.
Who was your first customer?
My first customer was my neighbor, right next door to the cafe. He came in and asked for a mocha. I didn’t know how to make it, so he said “Coffee’s okay. You will learn.” I was so scared in the beginning! I didn’t know how to use the machine. One customer taught me how to use the grind machine.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Buying right after the market crash – it was cheap, it was a fast transaction. Right now everyone is looking for a place. This location is good. Saratoga is a sleepy town. These people prefer quality over quantity. We do the latte art – the heart, the leaf. People like that. We also use ceramic cups, like the European style. This eliminates a lot of garbage. And we recycle. People here really care about that.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
Many. In the beginning many providers came to talk to us. We signed a 5-year contract, and and we had to pay money to stop the service early. A credit card provider came in and talked to my son very nicely so he signed up. But the company was taking a 21% fee, and it cost $9,000 to cancel.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
Cleaning and keeping everything stocked. One time we ran out of one of the salads and one of the employees said to the customer that we were out. I don’t want that. I told my employees “never say we don’t have it.” I don’t want to say no. It’s hard with a big menu. We just added another salad option, too.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
I like when people get the drinks and are happy; they are so excited to see the latte art – they say “It’s so pretty! It’s so good!” The cafe is doing well; I discovered that I have a talent for running the business.
What entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
My business neighbor across the street. They bring so many people in with their online coupons.
What I’ve Learned
If you could do it again, what would you do differently?
I am planning on buying another coffee shop. I want to get better management so I don’t have to be there all the time. And I will hire more people.
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Choose a good location. I had looked at downtown San Jose, but over there it is more about quantity than quality. It depends on what you are looking for. Run the cafe your own way.
About the Big Basin Cafe
Bright coffee shop serving organic beans roasted in the cafe, plus sandwiches & pastries.
Address: 14471 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070
Phone: (408) 741-1185
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