Bluestone Lane offers Australian baristas gap year in United States

Bluestone Lane

Bluestone Lane has the opportunity of a lifetime for passionate hospitality workers with a flair for human connection and the chance to share their proud barista talent on the US stage.

Author James Truslow Adams first described the concept of the American Dream in his best-selling 1931 book Epic of America as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”.

Ninety-one years on, that dream is still very much alive. Through the Exchange Visitor (J-1) non-immigrant visa category, Australian-inspired roaster and café brand Bluestone Lane is inviting Australians to spend one year working for the company in the United States.

“We’re looking for talented young people who are up for an adventure, who want to live and experience the US culture and be part of the leading hospitality export in the United States. If that’s you, then this is the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Founder and CEO Nick Stone.

To be eligible for a J-1 visa to participate in a work and study-based exchange visitor program, applicants must be a full-time enrolled or tertiary student, or a post-secondary student or recent graduate. Successful Australian applicants can stay in the US for 12 months. New Zealand applicants can stay for six months.

“We’ve had over 200 successful J-1 workers since the inception of the business, many of whom have moved onto a permanent work visa. We’ve done it many times before. We know what we’re doing, we know the pain points, and where we need to be sensitive,” Nick says.

Each successful applicant is assigned a J-1 sponsor to guide them through the process. Health insurance must be paid upfront before travel commences, and applicants then work with the Bluestone Lane team to coordinate what city they will work in, the hours of work, compensation, and provide accommodation recommendations.

“People who travel with J-1s normally stress about finding a job, but that’s guaranteed from the beginning. The other reassuring thing for successful applicants is that other J-1s will likely become fellow co-workers who will go through the same experience, which is comforting,” Nick says.

After a challenging few years navigating the global pandemic, Bluestone Lane has rebounded strongly. In 2021, Nick says the company generated more revenue in three quarters than it did pre-COVID.

“We’re a fast-moving company that will have 900 staff by the end of the year. We’ll finish this calendar year with 70 stores, with plans to grow 85 per cent year-on-year,” Nick says.

“The demand is insatiable. The opportunity for the market is massive, we just need more passionate, professional, and experienced hospitality staff, and people who want to be part of a team. If we received applications from 101 great Aussies, we’d take them all. We’re looking for the best Aussie talent.”

This extends to those who have limited hospitality experience but enjoy making people feel happy and love being part of a community.

Bluestone Lane aims for Aussies to represent 10 to 20 per cent of staff to help maintain the brand’s identity.

Nick himself has never worked a day in hospitality, not technically. A former Australian Rules Footballer, Nick went to New York as part of his Master of Business Administration studies, to chase his now-wife, and work in investment banking.

“I’m proof that there’s no great skill requirement needed. You just need an orientation around human connection,” Nick says.

“People have been starved of communication from COVID, and pre-COVID we already had this obsession with digital connection and no human connection. It’s creating such a big problem with mental health, and that feeling of loneliness and isolation because we’re starved of that ability for someone to sit down and have a tangible connection with someone. We think it’s through messaging platforms and social media but the exponential challenges of those mediums are so immense. The world is in desperate need of more time together.”

For this reason, Bluestone Lane is passionate about becoming a destination to facilitate social catchups, find a sense of community and humanity, and be an exemplary pillar of customer service.

“People forget about a bad coffee or a bad meal within five minutes of leaving venue, but they never forget bad customer service. So many cafés in Australia are service oriented because having great coffee is a prerequisite, it’s not a differentiator. What is, is service: name, face, and order, atmosphere, and ambiance,” Nick says.

“That’s what people really look forward to and it’s what we focus on at Bluestone Lane because we believe everyone will eventually catchup to coffee [quality]. Technology has pushed better quality coffee, so it’s really going to be about the way people are served and if they feel their café is ‘their local Bluestone’. That’s why we have achieved a boutique café concept at scale. We currently have 60 stores, but we don’t feel like a chain.”

With its foreseeable growth goals, Bluestone Lane aims for Aussies to represent 10 to 20 per cent of staff to help maintain the brand’s identity, authenticity, and familiarity as it replicates the quintessential Australian café experience.

“Being Australian differentiates us. Bluestone would not be particularly unique in Australia, but it is in the US,” Nick says. “We don’t have a lot of US staff who have worked in premium cafés before as 65 per cent of all coffee shops are either Starbucks or Dunkin – probably even more because after COVID because so many independent coffee shops have closed, but the bigger chains prospered.”

Nick says it’s important for prospective applicants to note that the J-1 opportunity with Bluestone Lane can be much more than just a quick exploration of the US lifestyle and culture. For many, it could be the start to a successful career path in hospitality.

“The vast majority of roles are in retail but there’s so many other roles and functionalities we’re looking for to help manage our growth. We have a huge focus on promoting from within. Most people start with the busines working in a retail role but could end up in a corporate position or running multiple stores and operations,” Nick says.

On the other hand, landing guaranteed work in the US can also open the door to other career opportunities, in whatever form they take.

“This is not just a part-time gig. Once you work in the US and work for Bluestone Lane for a year, applicants may realise they want to work for a big accounting firm in New York and cease the opportunity to apply in person. Those who are eligible may have the opportunity to transition to an E-3 visa,” Nick says.

After two years of lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing, Nick says a gap year to the US is the opportunity many young Australians are ready for; that chance to travel overseas for the first time, rejuvenate a love for adventure, and most importantly, human connection.

“Successful J-1 applicants really do have the best year ever. They meet a lot of celebrities, work with the best people in the industry, and have access to the best restaurants, and the best parties,” Nick says. “You get the chance to live in the most sophisticated cosmopolitan cities of the world – New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Boston, and Texas. Travel to the Hamptons, explore the US culture, and have a guaranteed job working in a café profession they were probably already doing back in Australia.”

Nick has lived in the US for the past 12 years. He says while there’s really no comparison to living in NYC with the population of Melbourne and Sydney combined on one island, there’s a big world waiting to be explored, and that rare opportunity is available right now for those eager to take it:

“One year living in the best city in the world? I’d say yes for sure.”

For more information and to apply, visit bluestonelane.com

This article appears in the June 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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