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BUSINESS SUCCESS: Capital One Café – Meet the Barista Banker

In 2017 Capital One announced the launch of the Capital One Café – a transformational and impactful shift for the banking industry, but also an inspiring business model that transcends business as usual.

In short, the Capital One Café is a beautiful and bright neighborhood café where people can go to eat, drink coffee, meet friends, conduct business, or get financial coaching and education for everything from personal finance to business finance. You can learn how to better use a banking app on your phone to make easy mobile deposits of checks. Or, just hang out and visit with the barista bankers.

Take a virtual 3D tour of the Lincoln Park location to get a feel for the space. It’s similar to the Apple retail store design – big, bold, bright, inviting, and creative surroundings that inspire.

It’s like a small tuition-free neighborhood community college focused on financial literacy with on-demand short courses on a variety of finance-related topics. Learn about investing, retirement, saving, budgeting, and more while enjoying a latte.

Banking institutions that are clinging to a 19th-century vision of what a bank is will eventually be left behind. Cold hollow impersonal 1950s floor plans with dim artificial lighting and 1970s carpet patters with awkward drapes in massive imposing structures are not welcoming.

Today, people don’t do banking the way they did 70 years ago. We now have online banks with no brick and mortar buildings. They offer excellent rates, services, and convenience. This is the banking world that CapitalOne is competing with and they are finding the perfect niche where people can still get a personalized experience while enjoying a web-driven and app-managed world of finance.

Capital One Café Ads

Here are some ads that show the coffee shop bank experience. The first video is a 30-second ad. The second is 1m 20s and covers the experience in more depth.

Reimagining Your Business

Businesses need to react to shifts in the needs and interests of society. They need to look for new and diversified streams of income, as well as unique ways to engage and connect with customers.

The Capital One Café is an example that other businesses can follow. Perhaps a cafe-model or other reimagined formats for their business location such as foot court, event center, museum, hotel, park, or mixed-urban space as a diversified business ‘floorpan’ that serves local neighborhoods and communities.

Bagel Shop Meets Coffee Shop

The Brueggers Bagels franchise has locations across the country including 9 Iowa locations. As a way of reimagining what their business could offer, Brueggers has done something very innovative. I select markets, they researched their ‘competition’ and instead of looking for ways to compete, they created very successful partnerships. For example, their Iowa City locations have joined with Caribou Coffee (downtown) and Jamba Juice (on Riverside Drive).

By collaborating, rather than competing, these businesses have done very well. While the partnership isn’t as dramatic as a bank-café it’s an example of doing something new. Brueggers and Caribou in one location give customers more than if they were in separate locations. Jamba Juice offers fresh cold-pressed fruit, vegetable, and grass juices that go great with a bagel sandwich. Everyone wins.

Gas Station Transformed

At the southwest corner of Riverside Drive and West Benton in Iowa City was a gas station called Doc’s Standard. It was a traditional gas station / service station with two service bays. They offered oil changes, tire service, and other minor repairs. They even had a car wash. Their food offering was a metal rack of candy bars and chips. They also had a gum-ball machine and a soda machine all cramped into the small counter where customers would pay for their gas. That station was around for decades and closed only a few years ago.

Gas stations like Doc’s were slowly being replaced with convenience stores. They were convenient for the business owner because now a gas station proprietor could make even money by selling cigarettes and a wider variety of items that people would pay more for. Yet, the convenience store was still very much optimized to maximize profits in the smallest space possible.

Stacks of beer cans on the floor, and packs of potato chips hanging from clips surrounding the cashier emphasized the focus of these carnival-like operations where getting a ‘savings’ on toenail clippers was about as likely as winning the large plush teddy bear at the county fair. These places feel just as claustrophobic when viewed from the outside as they feel on the inside.

In Iowa City, the Kum & Go franchise gas stations have been creating a new format for gas stations. The first thing you notice when approaching them is the massive open space on the outside that totally opens up a mostly unobstructed skyline.

In the photo below, what you see is a full city block dedicated to mostly landscaping. It’s like someone came in and purchased premium commercial property on a corner lot and used only a 10th of it for the actual business. There are shrubs and trees which will eventually grow. In the background you can see the neighboring property is an apartment building in the distance. This is a massive open space and a VERY stark contrast to the traditional convenience store. As you get closer to this ‘gas station’ you see enough bike racks for a dozen bicycles. That seems odd for a gas station.

As you get closer, you’ll see a huge art installation inspiring people to live their best life.

Then you walk in the front door and to the left you see a minibar where you can get fresh on-tap local craft beers from our area’s best breweries – and plenty of seating to relax and enjoy your drink. Or, you can have your beer specially vacuum packed into their branded to-go growlers. The process ensures your beer will stay incredibly fresh. Let’s just say that this beer is so fresh and delicious, that even someone who doesn’t like beer will like this beer. That’s how fresh it is. It’s almost like a fresh kombucha drink. They must have hired some micro-brewery craft-beer nerd, and said, “See that half of the store… You can do whatever you want over there in that space. Create something brilliant.”

Turn and look at the rest of the store. This is not a gas station. It’s not a convenience store. It’s a neighborhood market. Notice the very spacious isles. There is actually a full-time chef. So, “Complements to the chef!” are words you might hear at Kum & Go that you won’t hear at a convenience store.

The brilliant and creative minds at Kum & Go have really hit a home run with these new community market spaces. It’s similar to what Capital One has done in reinventing what banking is. Having a neighborhood market, with some locally sourced products, is undoubtedly the future of something we don’t have a name for yet. It’s not just a gas station or convenience store. Putting the Market at the hub and offering a variety other products really makes sense. This is a place where people might ride their bikes to meet friends and share some fresh local beer.


The examples above show how businesses can put on their creative hat and come up with something new and different that has the diversity and vitality to survive massive industry changes. Big companies are usually not nimble enough to adapt for changes in culture and industry. By having creative, local, engaging, and giving business models, it’s possible to survive and thrive, better serving customers and communities.

Further Reading

Here’s more information about the Capital One Café initiative.

  • Biz Journals – “First look: D.C.’s new Capital One Cafe is a bank masquerading as a coffee shop”
  • Business Insider – “Capital One is trying to curry favor with millennials with cafés around the US offering free Wi-Fi, local coffee and food, and complimentary money coaching”
  • Future Branches – “Here’s How Capital One Combines Coffee with Banking to Cater to Millennials”

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com

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