Pandemic forces locally owned coffee shops to evolve or close permanently

ATLANTA — Locally owned coffee shops not only give us our morning caffeine fix, but they are also hubs for the community and culture.

But the pandemic is hitting these small businesses especially hard, forcing many to close permanently.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Nicole Carr looked into how some metro area coffee shops are pivoting while maintaining a personal touch.

When the pandemic forced Ebrik Coffee Room to shut down its downtown Atlanta location near Georgia State University, owner Abbas Barzegar moved his business online hosting coffee demonstrations on Instagram Live and selling roasted coffee beans on the company’s website.

“All of the all of the government buildings, government agencies, everybody started working from home. And so, there’s absolutely no business future in the foreseeable future,” Barzegar said.

But he says even before the coronavirus, the traditional coffee shop model was suffering.

“To be successful as an independent coffee shop, you have to have a lot of foot traffic for you to have a space with a lot of foot traffic, it’s going to be in a really expensive part of town,” Barzegar said.

Years after opening the first coffee shop downtown, his rent rose dramatically, and competition moved in.

Now Barzegar is reinventing his business as a specialty coffee roasting company and tasting room. He’s building out this space inside Koncept House, a place for entrepreneurs catering to arts and culture in Castleberry Hill.


Koncept House features special events spaces on the second floor and rooftop with panoramic views of the downtown Atlanta skyline.

“We do plan once things are safe to begin hosting art galleries again doing our open mics, doing our music events doing our book talks,” Barzegar said.

Ebrik isn’t the only locally owned coffee shop to close its doors during the pandemic.

Revelator Coffee told Carr it shut down Octane Coffee on Marietta Street due to the pandemic and an unfavorable lease renewal terms.

Research firm Euromonitor International forecasts the U.S. will have about 25,000 coffee and tea shops by the end of this year.

That’s down more than seven percent from 2019, and annual sales are also expected to drop 12 percent.

But locally owned Drip-Thru Coffee is well-poised for the pandemic with its drive-thru.

“I mean, we’ve definitely seen an influx of, of new customers,” said Drip-Thru Coffee owner Christy Deen.

Drip-Thru Coffee’s small size is part of its success.

“Our College Park store is about 243 square feet. Our Stockbridge location is 135 square feet. So tiny definitely,” Deen said.

Deen opened her first store with relatively low overhead in 2016.

“I just wanted to keep it small and keep it simple. And I think honestly, that is one of the biggest things that has helped us out is that we’re not paying what typical commercial cafes are paying during the pandemic,” Deen said.

Drip-Thru’s small size and staff help them build relationships with their customers.

“The cool thing about our drive-thru is we don’t do speaker boxes or has that because we do want to get to know you. We want to get to know you by your name. We want to get to know you by your beverage,” Deen said.

Since COVID-19, Deen said she’s had to cut staff so employees can socially distance. They also wear masks, wash hands and sanitize more frequently.

“It’s a lot more to it. But we just want to make sure that we stay in compliance and keep the keep the coffee flowing,” Deen said.