Victor Alvarado and his business partner, Danny Kirk, are at the tail end of a crowd-funding campaign on Propel Arizona to raise $35,000 to secure a space and start their project, the Outlet Cafe and Innovation Centre. Alvarado said the cafe and center will be a place that supports entrepreneurship in Tucson by providing work spaces and equipment; it should also be a good spot to meet for locally roasted coffee and hand-crafted beers. For more on the campaign, go to propelarizona.com/projects/the-outlet-cafe-and-innovation-centre1/323. For information on the project, visit theoutletcafe.co, or go to its Facebook page at facebook.com/theouletcafeinnovationcentre.
We have Gangplank in Tucson. What's different about this project?
I actually met with them. It was a good idea to sit down and realize the potential benefits of having a work space like ours, and another work space like theirs. They are a nonprofit with the idea of paying things forward. It's free to go there, but you buy a desk for the next person to come in. Sometimes, its fun to be in a collaborative space, but other times, people need a more-dedicated space, or they need to go outside for a breather—like our coffee shop.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Tucson, and spent two years in Austin, Texas, before coming back recently.
How did you come up with this project idea?
I was talking with Danny, and he was trying to find a space that worked well for him. There are good aspects of a coffee shop, a library, but all have their negatives and drawbacks. So we started creating this space.
Where are you looking for space?
Right now, we are doing a big push in downtown and the UA area. We want to start off with a smaller prototype. And as we attract more visitors, we'll increase.
Although you'll offer memberships, is this still a for-profit venture?
It's a for-profit venture, for sure, but we are in this realm where we can pretty much do whatever we want. We want to offer classes free of charge to some of our volunteers and members. We figure networking is the biggest value, so we'll have things available for someone to go into a weekly class—maybe on résumé-building or marketing. We are for-profit, but we can do a lot with this space.
What will the memberships look like?
Three tiers. One of them is affordable for a college student or grad student, maybe at $20 a month. It won't be contractual, and they can cancel anytime. The bigger ones will be $50 a month and more. The biggest is called the Change-maker. You can afford a private or dedicated space that could even be shared with two or three people at $300 a month. There will be copiers and teleconferencing.
What will the coffee space be like?
I want to create a forum for lively discussions and a nighttime atmosphere. Maybe every couple of nights, we'll have talks with discussions afterward. The coffee shop itself, I'm planning on staying local with all of our products. We'll have a limited menu, with locally roasted coffees, local foods and local beers. We want to create a place for a power lunch or to have a deal-making beer.
What kind of feedback are you getting about the project locally?
We were lucky enough to connect with the entrepreneurial community, and as soon as we broke into that community and told them what we planned on doing ... they understood. The hardest part is getting across why this is a good investment. In one sense, it is part-restaurant, and some are weary of investing in lifestyle businesses. Once we start the prototype, we think they will have a better understanding that this is more than a coffee shop.
I imagine you're also talking to the city powers-that-be?
We're calling out to the local government to understand that while technically, we're not a nonprofit, we know we can offer a true value, especially in business retention and urban development. With everything going on downtown, we know we will be a good fit. This is a space for many different people in Tucson: designers, those in marketing and consulting, and, yes, journalists fall right in that realm, too.