Taking on the green machine

Small Maple Ridge coffee shop competes with big coffee shop

Dan Liu’s Bagels and More Cafe is next door to a big chain that dominates the coffee business.

Dan Liu’s Bagels and More Cafe is next door to a big chain that dominates the coffee business.

What do you if you’re a little guy, you own a coffee shop and you’re taking on the grande Goliath called Starbucks?

You dig in and compete and hang on and use your brains so you survive, that’s what you do.

Dan Liu’s been doing that for the past year, and the previous owner, his friend for the two and half years before that, in the Bagels and More Cafe located centimetres from the Starbucks outlet at Valley Fair Mall.

When sleepy, caffeine-deprived commuters line up for their morning tall dark roasts or grande lattes, Liu is serving his morning coffee – along with bagels, fresh sandwiches and wraps.

Bagels and More is located right next to Starbucks, basically an arm’s length away.

While the big Seattle chain puts out its outdoors chairs, tables and green umbrellas, Bagels and More puts out its chairs, tables and orange umbrellas.

While coffee lovers sit back and enjoy a chat in the morning sun at Starbucks, coffee lovers at Bagels and More do the same.

“We are local, they are international, very hard to compete,” Liu says.

The costs of supplies for the big chain are cheap, he says.

Liu attributes his survival to three reasons.

He and his wife both work long hours in the cafe, which helps to cut labour costs. He has only three part-time employees.

Second, he’s careful to ensure there’s no waste.

Third, he chooses his suppliers carefully. He points out he’s able to save 25 per cent on a box of whole wheat wraps when he buys directly from the manufacturer in Burnaby rather than from a food distributor.

“Without those three points I mentioned, we’d be dead already.”

So why do people come to Bagels and More and not the big guy’s place next door?

“We’re different, because basically they sell coffee. If you have lunch, you come here. They don’t have lunch.”

Liu’s coffee is also a regular blend rather than the strong stuff that Starbucks serves its caffeine addicts.

“Their coffee’s different.”

Bagels and More’s menu includes fresh sandwiches, wraps and won ton soup. The various of flavours of cream cheese that go on the bagels are also prepared on site, he says.

“We treat every customer like our relative, our friend,” adds Liu’s wife, Lee Zou.

But it’s not easy staying alive, says Liu, who came from Tianjin, China about 20 years ago.

“This year’s even harder, compared to last year,” he says during a lull after the lunch-time rush.

He can feel the slowing economy, he adds.

But next year could be better. The hated HST will be repealed in March.

That really hurt when it was brought in July 2010, says Liu, so he’s expecting some relief when the provincial sales tax returns and shoppers no longer have to pay seven per cent on lunch bills.

The opening of the Maple Ridge community gaming centre across Lougheed Highway in the next year could also make it busier, he adds.