Lockdown in a Coffee Bar in Romania with Cosmin Tarasescu

The transcript was recorded and edited by Alexandra Carmen Buza

The Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, recorded in August, we meet Cosmin Tarasescu, the owner of a coffee bar Espresst in Bucharest, Romania. We learn what customer satisfaction means and how to grow organically .

Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself as a person and entrepreneur?

Cosmin: I’m a joyful person most of the time and I’m also very communicative. As an entrepreneur I’m at my second shot of opening a coffee place or place of coffee as I Iike to call it. I started two months ago obtaining the necessary authorizations finishing the process exactly in the pandemic period. The period when I was seeing other owners closing their businesses I was running and trying to get in contact with all the needed people from Romanian institutions to get approvals so we can start the activity and in the first week after the restrictions were lifted it was done. We started, we opened and from then “we are happy and we also make other people happy. Or how I like to say “We make noise, we make coffee, we make good”, this is a kind of espresst motto.

Where have you found the courage of taking this step in a pandemic situation. As you said, when people were closing their businesses, you managed to open yours.

Cosmin: Owning a coffee place is a dream I had for a long time. It started when I was searching for the coffee place. We found it and we kept building from there. I was like “look, it also has a basement, we can make there a cozy place to get your coffee. Now it’s no longer the case because customers are not allowed inside the coffee bar but now we are fighting for a terrace, we want to arrange one. The situation is a bit complicated now: On one side it’s understandable but on the other side we want it to happen as soon as possible.

Have you felt the risk or pressure opening your business right in the middle of a pandemic?

Cosmin: Absolutely. Absolutely because the feedback I received from the market which was offered from friends who have businesses in various domains was that the number of clients dropped and with a lower number of clients you question yourself “When I open my coffee bar, what do I have new or how can I motivate the clients, those few remained clients on the street. Or the ones we had right after the restrictions were lifted, what can I do to bring them to my coffee bar and to make them become loyal customers? “ This is my business concept I had from the beginning. My satisfaction comes when the client I had on the first day comes each day to buy coffee from me. I have that client after a full year and he bought 365 coffees.

You are an entrepreneur, this is your coffee bar, do you have other employees too or you handle this business on your own?

Cosmin: At this moment no. I’m by myself, this is another opinion I have. Right after the pandemic, I think each entrepreneur had to handle the business pulse directly because I don’t see how we can adapt quickly with the new requests from the market. One for example, each day I see more and more people careful on what they spend on a specific product. They want to see the highest quality while paying the same amount they would pay for a normal esspreso or for how much they would pay for a latte. But if that latte is not made correctly or full of bubbles which I dislike to see. They’ll stop spending there the money.The packaging is also very important and the safeness offered with it. For me, the packaging including the cap and the wooden pallet or sugar are packed individually. For each client so they can have more trust in my brand, especially in this period. Which means that only the client touches the place where they will consume the drink. We’re trying to get closer to the idea of perfection.

For how long is your business running?

Cosmin: We purchased the place in January and we started our activity in the first week after the quarantine. I think we have 2 months already.

Alright, and what was the number of your clients at the beginning compared to this moment. As we were talking before the interview and you told me you actually had a really busy day. How are things evolving?

Cosmin: On the opening day I think we had around 15–20 brave clients and now if we think about a bad selling day, we have somewhere around 50 clients and on a good selling day it would be somewhere around 100 clients. A significant growth will happen when we’ll be able to place the terrace as the space was designed so we can use the inside of the coffee bar for tables and clients but now, yea, we have to rethink our strategy and place a few tables outside. Otherwise, in my opinion, the pubs without a terrace are inexistent in this period.

It’s known that yesterday, in Romania, there was a protest by hospitality stuff. Perhaps, a lot of people outside of this domain were not aware of this. Would you like to tell us a few things about it?

Cosmin: Sure. It was a protest initiated by the Federation of Hotel Investors in Romania. I welcome this initiative. I’m very happy it went viral and I didn’t see any place who did not respect this protest. I was also outside protesting in the 17:00–18:00 interval.

We request to reopen interior places which we own but the most important thing from this whole story is not the reopening but the compliance with the conditions empowered by the state. Everyone has to invest as we placed the plexiglasses at the bar where clients are paying, that’s how we can attach the plexiglass between the tables or to think about other options so that the people inside the pub do not pass near each other. It’s obvious we’ll have to invest some money so we can respect the new rules but I’m sure it’s doable.

How are the plans for your business in the next few months?

Cosmin: So here’s what we have — until the end of the year, I want to open in another location where I’ll also manage everything. I want that, at the beginning of each opening, at least three months for people to meet me because I want to see exactly how the profile of the clients is there and to see what products work and which are not working so well.

If you’d be able to ask for help with three things, what would you ask for?

Hmm, three things. I don’t think I would go for three things. I would honestly like one thing. The help we need in this period, and by we I mean all the staff, is for people to continue life as it was before the quarantine to come back to our businesses and to offer us feedback even if it’s right in the bar. Or over a review so that we either learn and improve and to avoid making the same mistake or to improve a product which is not bad but we can make it better

About the guest

Cosmin is a very passionate entrepreneur with an interesting story. He had the courage to open his business right in the middle of the pandemic and while the quarantine was on, he was running to get all the needed authorizations. His courage combined to passion for coffee and for great service helped essprest, his coffee bar, become a reality.

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.