Bluestone Lane’s Brian Dessaix is a proud advocate for the opportunities available outside Australia’s coffee walls. He speaks to BeanScene about America’s growing specialty scene and what underpins Bluestone award-winning coffee.
Some people know what they want to be when they grow up, or what college they’ll strive to attend, but for Brian Dessaix, Bluestone Lane’s Vice President of West Coast Operations and Coffee, he always knew his destiny was to work overseas.
“My mum was a travel agent and would take us around the world from a pretty young age. I’ve always been fascinated by other countries and cultures,” Brian says.
That curiosity followed Brian into his professional coffee career, where he was adamant it would one day take him beyond the shores of Manly, Sydney.
“I wanted to experience new things, influence drinking culture in some respects, and push the envelope. I’m a risk taker when moving around, and I think that’s paid off,” Brian says. “I knew how important coffee culture was to Australians, and I wanted to see where in the world others got great coffee, and how they created a great café experience.”
His first taste of that came in 1998/98 when Brian used a J-1 Visa to explore the United States while studying hospitality management in San Francisco.
“Everyone was going to Lake Tahoe or snowboarding for the winter, and I went to San Francisco and worked in a café for six months. I enjoyed the differences in how they did things. From there, I always wanted to do more with global companies, and I’ve had the opportunity to do that with Krispy Crème, McDonalds, and Campos [where Brian worked for seven years]. It’s just something that’s always been on my radar,” Brian says.
“But the first real opportunity I got, where I wouldn’t have to take a leap of faith and could actually turn up in a new country with a job, was with Bluestone Lane. I felt very fortunate to get that opportunity. It was the job of a lifetime. But it didn’t come easy. I got it after 20 years of grinding. There was plenty of blood, sweat, and tears, and making of cappuccinos and flat whites before this.”
Brian now runs Bluestone Lane’s coffee program. He also embraces procurement, sourcing, operations, logistics, education, retail execution, and equipment, which feeds into Bluestone’s wholesale and licensing business. He is also helping setup Bluestone Lane’s West Coast expansion.
“I’m an ambassador for the coffee program,” he says. “It needs someone who can build it, strengthen it, represent it, and help deliver it in a consistent, measured way.”
Of all the countries Brian could have chosen to pursue his international coffee career, he says the sheer size of the United States and its potential for growth was the most appealing.
“The specialty coffee scene in the US is incredible. In Australia, we have this stereotypical view that the US coffee scene is just Starbucks and Dunkin, butvthe specialty scene is very strong. There is, however, a gap between specialty coffee and average coffee,” he says.
And that gap is what Bluestone Lane is passionate about closing. With a minimum 25 stores opening in 2023, and a chance to exceed 100 stores by end of next year, Bluestone Lane is passionate about delivering a quality coffee experience at high volume and pace, and it needs Aussies to join its vision.
The Australian-inspired roaster and café brand is inviting Australians to spend one year working for the company through the Exchange Visitor ( J-1) non- immigrant visa category.
“You don’t have to be a highly skilled barista to come. Australians have this inherent hospitality orientated culture where we’re naturally good at service. It’s embedded in our culture and upbringing. We may not have a tip- influenced work environment like the US, but we work very much as a team, and have strong camaraderie, which we welcome. We want our entire teams to be influenced and have the support of Australians,” Brian says. “Here at Bluestone, we absolutely believe that as a team you achieve more, you’ll have a better time, and you get better results.”
Brian is living proof of the opportunity and career projection that is possible with a J-1 experience. He guarantees the trip of a lifetime but says those who apply must be hungry for the experience.
“It is a career-minded decision, not just for those wanting to work in coffee or hospitality. This is a chance for those interested in business internationally,” Brian says.
For some, a J-1 can also be an opportunity to get off the tools and step into a management position.
“The hardest step in building a coffee career is taking that next step and getting out from behind the coffee machine. That’s something we’re certainly aware of in trying to inspire and motivate people. A career in coffee doesn’t have to mean making coffee. It doesn’t even have to necessarily mean teaching coffee. It can mean supply chain, marketing, the opportunities are endless, and we can help facilitate that pathway.”
Part of Brian’s role within Bluestone Lane is to provide employees with the skills to steer that pathway as the company scales in size.
“Our accreditation process is robust and sets us up for success. Once you’re in the business for about 30 days, you do our booster training modules, then do your barista accreditation. None of it is overly complicated. It’s structured and really broken down. And then, that’s where the doors really open up and you become more valuable to other stores in other regions, or even move into a headquarter role, which gives you exposure to leadership opportunities in-store,” Brian says.
Testament to the company’s coffee training program is a collection of newly awarded Golden Bean awards, recognising coffee excellence. Bluestone Lane won seven medals including
Gold for its Maverick espresso blend, silver for its new Riptide dark espresso blend, and a bronze for its Kenya Kiawamururu Filter coffee.
“It’s a massive achievement and absolutely gives credibility to our project. It’s so easy to talk the talk but this is proof of walking the walk. It’s very much a team effort of those involved in our resources, procurement, education and roasting. It all contributes to our coffee program and coffee quality results, which is second to none,” Brian says.
He adds that the vertical integration of the company and decision to roast its own coffee and deliver it fresh to retail and wholesale partners makes a big difference.
“I’m forever impressed when I go into our stores, whether I’m in San Francisco, Houston, or New York, and get a really consistent flat white, when nine years ago, five years ago, one year ago, or even two months ago in Houston, they didn’t even know what it was. I think that quality across the board comes down to our really robust training program. But there’s always room for improvement, and that’s my role – to push the limits and raise the bar, and that’s something I’m committed to doing,” Brian says.
While teaching Americans how to perfect the flat white remains a constant task, Brian says he’s learned to embrace America’s efficiency for producing cold brew coffee, of which orders overtake the company’s volume of hot beverages sold. “It’s actually something we’ve had to consider in our shop layout, design and workflow so that we’re not only relying on the espresso machine for cold coffee orders. You have to consider ice machines and how we prepare cold coffee in very tiny spaces at speed – and I think we’re as fast as anyone,” he says.
Brian is confident the work Bluestone Lane is doing will set the company up for future growth. Already, he says opening the first Bluestone Lane shop in Texas was a career highlight, and there’s more to come, with plans to expand the Bluestone name in Southern California, Orange County, Florida, and Colorado.
“We’re so committed to delivering the best version of ourselves at scale. We want to get back to that idea of the neighbourhood café and creating consistency of product, so that each time you go back to your local neighbourhood café, the experience is the same,” Brian says.
For more information and to apply for the J-1 application, visit bluestonelane.com/j1-visa/