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Success Story Michel Lussier Shares His 11-Year Expertise in the Industry of Espresso

Read Why He Made Astoria Argenta a Part of His 4 Caffuccino Restaurants

Michel Lussier and some members of is Caffuccino Team

Michel Lussier
(Center Left)

Starting with a coffee, dessert and sandwich concept 11 years ago, Michel Lussier enhanced it to a full café bistro restaurant experience, adding an impressive selection of imported beers, wines and dishes to the menu.  Each Caffuccino blends elegance with refinement, bringing people together over and over again to its warm ambiance.

Perfectly happy with his choice of espresso machine, he keeps expanding his business and now employs 105 people. He opened his 4th Caffuccino in January 2008.

 

Caffuccino

Picture of the 4th Caffuccino

My-Best-Coffee.com: Hello Michel, thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us. Where did you open your first Caffuccino?
Michel Lussier: I opened the first one in Magog, Québec, February 5, 1997.

MBC: And what brought you to Sherbrooke, Québec, afterwards?
ML: I felt like opening a second one and adding a bar section specialized in imported beers, because in Magog, the concept was a coffee/dessert/sandwich one. I chose to establish the larger concept in Sherbrooke.

MBC: It takes a certain entrepreneurial mindset to accomplish that. Where did it come from?
ML: I can’t say where I got it from, but I wanted to create a space where I would feel good as a client.

MBC: It’s a bit of a lounge concept, isn’t it?
ML: It’s café bistro, but the concept has evolved since I started, 11 years ago. The concept has grown, aged. In the beginning, there was live jazz music. Now, it becomes lounge at night.

MBC: What brought you into the world of espresso?
ML: I wished to have a business that would specialize in one field. In our area, there aren’t any Starbucks or Second Cup. I don’t know why, but I’m quite happy to be the local reference for coffee, and that people know about the Caffuccino.

MBC: I thought Caffuccino was a franchise, but you own all four of them. Is franchising something you have in mind?
ML: I created the concept, but I haven’t franchised it. It could be done, though, because I manage each one of the restaurants as if they were franchisees, but I’m a bit torn about it: the Caffuccino bistros are well known and popular, and I’m quite happy the way it is now. If I had to move to the next level, I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much.

MBC: I noticed you use Astoria Argenta espresso machines. What made you choose this particular brand and model?
ML: It happened by accident! Actually, back in 1997, it was the brand and model that was suggested to us for the Magog branch. And when we opened the second branch, we insisted on having the same look, just like when we opened the third and fourth ones. I really like my Astoria Argentas because they never break. In Magog, we’ve been open for 11 years and it’s the same machine today as it was 11 years ago!

MBC: So we can say it’s reliable?
ML: Oh yes, I’m very satisfied with it. The normal maintenance keeps it running smoothly. And since some employees work in more than one Caffuccino, installing the same machine in all 4 cafés allows them to always work with the same equipment.

MBC: They only once have to learn how it works, and no matter which Caffuccino they work at, it’s always the same technique?
ML: Exactly! We try to be consistent. We chose the Astoria Argenta for all 4 cafés for two reasons: looks and consistency. When a client steps into the new Caffuccino, the place already feels familiar because the experience is the same as in any another Caffuccino.

MBC: If I’m getting this right, the espresso machine is part of the décor.
ML: Absolutely! I also bought the dome with the brass eagle that goes on its top. This accessory sells separately, and it’s a bit expensive, but in each Caffuccino, you’ll find that dome representing old Italian espresso machines. I know of 4 or 5 companies that sell eagle mounted brass domes, though I don’t really know about their origin.

MBC: You mentioned that the Astoria was extremely reliable and that it had never broken in 11 years. What would you say of the quality of the espressos it makes and of its consistency from one cup to the other?
ML: My first Argenta is semiautomatic and the others are automatic. We program the latter for the amount of coffee we want. This goes a long way for consistency and we’ve never had any problem. That’s why I don’t want to switch to another brand!

MBC: What about your employees who operate the Argenta? What do they think of it?
ML: We train them directly on the machine and everything is fine.

MBC: There are schools that train people to operate espresso machines, and when the students graduate, they acquire the title of Barista.
ML: Yes, however there aren’t any such schools close to this area, and we train our baristas according to our own requirements. Expectations differ quite a bit from one chain of coffee shops to another.

MBC: Did you put yourself in charge of employee training at Caffuccino?
ML: When it comes to espresso, I’m the most demanding trainer, because espresso is at the root of my concept. I set the standards and insist on each coffee beverage being exactly the same in every Caffuccino.

MBC: Did you discover the right dosage for each beverage by trial and error?
ML: I like my cappuccino with a bit of hot milk and lots of froth, and my café latte with thicker milk froth and crema all around. When a client chooses Caffuccino, he knows his latte will measure up to that standard. Had he chosen another coffee shop and ordered a latte, he wouldn’t have received the same beverage. Had the client ordered a cappuccino in Italy, it would have been very different from the ones we make: each coffee shop develops its own product.

MBC: From one chain to the other, from one machine to the other, the taste is different?
ML: Yes. I’ve hired employees who have worked in another well-known chain. They have good basic knowledge, but in our coffee shop, we’ve decided that mochachino comes with whipped cream on top. Elsewhere, it is not served that way. We invent our own recipes. The only beverage that might be similar from one place to another is a single shot of espresso.

MBC: How did you learn your recipes and techniques?
ML: By repeatedly doing them. I’ve worked as a family restaurant cook for 10 years in the Magog area. I left school during my first year of college to work full time in a kitchen. 10 years later, I started my own small coffee shop.

MBC: Did you have a background in accounting or management?
ML: No, I set out in this adventure with a great team. I have an assistant who takes care of accounting and administration for the 4 restaurants, and a head manager who drives to all 4 places and who is responsible for the 105 employees. So I created the concept, but I have a team of people supporting it.

MBC: Your website indicates the following important milestones in the history of Caffuccino: first branch opened in 1997, second in 2000 in Sherbrooke, 2002 in Rock Forest, and the very last one opened downtown Sherbrooke in January 2008, and you’ve done some renovating through it all.
ML: We’ve expanded twice in Magog and renovated twice in Sherbrooke: we’ve completely redone them.

MBC: You said earlier that the Astoria Argenta machines are low maintenance. What do you think of their quality-price ratio?
ML: A beautiful machine like that costs pretty much the same from one company to the other. Some are more expensive because of their looks. I wanted a brass and stainless steel look with 2 groups. I know they make the Argenta in 3 and 4 groups, but buying a 4 group would purely be a question of appearances: we never need both 2-group machines at the same time, and we prepare many coffee beverages in one day!

MBC: Tell us about after-sales service. Do you deal directly with the Astoria company or with a representative?
ML: I deal with independent companies and I think I have a one-year warranty on my machines, I’m not sure. But they never break anyway! I only had to find people who know these machines well and who are able to maintain them.

MBC: What do you like most about the Astoria Argenta?
ML: I’ve been working with these machines since I’m in the business. I haven’t tested other commercial espresso machines so I can’t compare, but I have a nice semiprofessional one at home, it’s an ECM Giotto semiautomatic and it also makes great coffee!

MBC: What do you like less in commercial espresso machines in general?
ML: I don’t like machines made out of plastic. They often cost as much, but they lack prestige. I like machines with a sturdy look.

MBC: All in all, would you recommend your commercial espresso machine to other coffee shop owners?
ML: Absolutely: I just opened my 4th restaurant three weeks ago, and I bought the exact same one.

MBC: What are your best entrepreneurial qualities?
ML: I think that in order to launch a business, you need to be passionate. My passion is my Caffuccino bistros. It’s my bread and butter and my hobby too. When someone asks me what I do when I’m not working, I tell them I think of my Caffuccino! (laughs)

MBC: You ponder what new move you could be doing?
ML: Yes, that’s it, I always want to do more: I love it!

MBC: What does your clientele look like?
ML: I have a nice clientele of 18 to 65 year-olds, depending on the time of day. On Thursdays in Sherbrooke we have a happy hour and it stays full until 2am. We get the crème of each generation. Lots of professionals, businessmen and beautiful ladies…

MBC: Well, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview! It was very interesting and I know people will benefit from your insight!
ML: Great! My pleasure!

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