Starting a successful coffee shop takes more than knowing how to make a good cup of joe. Starting a new business requires completing several steps, and obtaining licensing is an important one as it may impact your ability to operate legally.
The question, “what business license do I need to start my coffee shop” is a common one, but in reality, your business will likely need multiple licenses, permits, and registrations from federal, state, and local agencies.
Let’s look at which licenses to consider when starting a coffee shop.
Related: Guide to starting a coffee shop
To not miss any important licenses and permits, we recommend also checking with your local Chamber of Commerce, economic development agency, or use a business license service like Incfile or Corpnet.
What Licenses Do You Need to Start a Coffee shop?
Each state has different requirements, so it’s important to research the laws in your state before starting.
Food Service License
In order to sell any type of prepared non-alcoholic beverages or food products, a food service license (also referred to as a retail food establishment license) is needed. This licensing helps ensure food-service establishments follow food safety and storage guidelines to help keep the public safe. The registration is different by location; however, it is typically through the local health department.
Licensing typically requires employees have a food handler certificate or food sanitation certification, in addition to the facility getting random inspections.
Selling beer, wine, and spirits brings quite a few regulatory requirements and registrations for a business. Every state requires obtaining a liquor license, and depending on where the business is located, a local license may also be required.
If your cafe will also sell alcohol, be sure to check into local regulations.
When starting a business, the legal entity needs to be selected. A legal entity refers to how a business is organized to operate. There are four main types of entities; sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC).
Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability protection, costs, and administrative requirements.
Related: What is the difference between a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or LLC?
Business Name Registration
While not necessarily a business license, it’s worth noting that to use a name for a business, many states require the registration of that name. Making matters more complicated, the process of name registration is different by state and the type of business entity.
For instance, sole proprietorships and partnerships generally need to register a business name (also referred to as a Doing Business As, DBA, fictitious name, or assumed name).
Learn: How to register a DBA
Corporations and LLCs register are a little easier because the name is registered when the entity is formed with the state.
General Business License or Permit
Depending on where the business is located, a general business license or permit may be required. A few states require a business license; however, they are more commonly found at the city level.
Learn more: Business license requirements by state
Federal Employer Identification Number
The Federal Employer Identification Number (also referred to as a FEIN, Employer Identification Number, EIN, or Federal Tax ID Number) is a unique nine-digit number that identifies a business with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Any business with employees or those that form as a partnership, Corporation, and in many cases an LLC, the business will need to get an EIN.
Sole proprietors and single-owner LLCs without employees can instead use the owner’s social security number.
Learn: How to get an EIN
Sales Tax Permit or Business Number
In order to sell products and/or offer certain services, a state sales tax permit (also referred to as a sales tax license, business tax number, or tax ID number) may be needed. This permit creates an account number with the state’s Department of Revenue (or similarly named state taxing agency) to collect and remit sales tax.
Learn: How to get a sales tax permit in each state
When buying inventory that is being resold to customers, such as coffee beans, creamers, pastries, and other items, the business can purchase these items tax-free. A resale certificate (sometimes referred to as a seller’s permit) allows a retailer to purchase inventory, and instead of paying the sales tax to their vendor, they charge the sales tax to the end-user of the product.
A resale certificate only allows a business to not pay sales tax for items being resold, and sales tax will still need to be paid for supplies or equipment.
Learn: How to get a resale certificate
In many cities, there are regulations for the size and placement of signage. Some communities are much more restrictive than others on signage. Before choosing a location, don’t assume you will be able to use the signage you want. Be sure to check with city administrators to know the rules regarding signage and the process for getting a sign permit.
Certificate of Occupancy
In most communities, a coffee shop will likely need to secure a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) before operating in a commercial building. This certificate is typically obtained from the city and/or the county and allows a business to occupy and operate from a building. Before the certificate is issued, the building will need to comply with zoning regulations, building codes, and any other local requirements.
Before purchasing or leasing a location for your coffee shop, be sure to check with the local zoning department (and, in many cases, the fire department) first to ensure the business can legally operate out of the chosen location.
A license that may not be obvious for many coffee shops is a music license. If you plan to play music in the store, whether it’s live, recorded, or streamed, a Public Performance License (PPL) will be needed. A blanket license can be obtained through the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC).
Fines from playing unlicensed music can be quite high, so be sure to get the licensing before playing in your space.
The process of identifying all the licenses and permits necessary to start a coffee shop may feel confusing and overwhelming. While researching licenses and permits isn’t the most exciting thing when starting a business, spending time upfront to get it right the first time is critical.
For some additional peace of mind, companies like Incfile or Corpnetcan do the research and ensure you have all of the proper federal, state, and local licenses to start your business.