Espressology on how businesses are navigating the post-pandemic café scene


Espressology Founder Instaurator on how to navigate a competitive market and why quality will always remain the driving force behind successful coffee businesses.

If Australia’s café market was considered competitive pre-pandemic, then the bar has been raised even higher with venues fighting to gain and retain consumer attention. Those that survived 2020 got through thanks to customer loyalty and diversifying their product, but going forward, Espressology Founder Instaurator says it’s the businesses that put quality first that will stand the test of time.

“When I received an online inquiry recently from a guy in Hobart, I asked him where he saw his café business in five to 10 years’ time. He replied, ‘I can’t really say, but all I know is that I want to remain dedicated to quality and generating new ideas.’ That, to me, is the best business plan you can have, to be committed to quality at all costs,” Instaurator says. “If you apply that dynamic vision to your business dealings, it will always help achieve your goals.”

Espressology has shared that same ideology from the get-go. The Sydney-based private label and contract roasting business is committed to the consistency of flavour and quality of every batch of coffee it roasts. For the past 13 years, Espressology has worked closely with its customers to create blends that reflect each individual customer’s taste preferences to help grow their dream coffee businesses.

When Instaurator was a “young bloke”, he met the late chairman of illycaffè, Dr Ernesto Illy, at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Expo. Ernest had a PhD in chemistry and was considered a “marketing genius”. At the expo, Instaurator watched fans crowd around Ernesto like a celebrity. Determined to ask his opinion on the best espresso machine on the market, Instaurator found his moment and asked the Italian businessman.

Business at 23hundred Espresso Bar is thriving, producing up to 60 kilograms of coffee per week.

“Ernesto leaned in and said in his best educated Italian voice: ‘the one with the best backup.’ I thought about it for a while and realised what he said made a lot of sense. A quality product will ensure machine longevity and consistency, but the manufacturer with the ability to support you if the equipment ever breaks down or provide spare parts easily is just as important. It was a really practical response,” Instaurator says.

“That conversation has always come to mind when I make decisions about the roasting equipment I install at Espressology. It’s one of the reasons I decided to work with Mark Beattie of Coffee Roasters Australia and invest in one of his roasters for our SCA courses. Mark’s business is reliable, supportive, and committed to producing a quality product.”

Another of Espressology’s connections with an unwavering commitment to quality is Peter Johnston of 23hundred Espresso Bar in Newcastle. A former wharfie and BHP worker, Peter decided to dive into hospitality and open his own coffee shop with the intention of drinking coffee all day long. But in 25 years, Peter says he hasn’t sat down once.

With no hospitality experience, Peter was lured into the world of franchising and spent eight years trying to withstand the competitive shopping centre environment with his quality-made coffee and charm. Peter says he put 110 per cent effort into the job but, eventually, it was time to move on.

“I was determined to not fall back into the hospitality world, but I kept walking past this vacant shop. I tried not to look at it but for whatever reason I kept walking past thinking the location was too good to not have something in it. I went to the landlord hoping he’d give me a high price that would convince me out of it, but the price was reasonable. It was too good to be true,” Peter says.

With the opportunity to do things his way, Peter turned the Scott Street site into a dedicated espresso bar and Googled ‘coffee roasters’. Espressology was one of the names that came up.

“When you look at Instaurator’s background, it’s very impressive. He’s world renowned yet approachable and so humble, and his entire team is like that. That includes former trainer Mitch Faulkner, and even now Ged [Ryan, Chief Operating Officer] and Rob [Murrell, Client Services Director], are always in touch and come up to visit. Each one has been so helpful and nothing but supportive,” Peter says. “We have stayed with Espressology the entire time we’ve been in business – 13 years.”

The reason being, Peter says, is because of Espressology’s ongoing support and quality-driven coffee.

“The feedback we get from our customers is how consistent the coffee has been over the 13 years. We haven’t changed the blend once and I think that’s why our customers have been so loyal – because they know they’re going to get a delicious coffee that taste like coffee, and believe me, I’ve drunk a lot and it’s still the best to me,” Peter says. “It’s for the same reason people go to Soul Origin around the country, they know what to expect.”

Peter may be one of Espressology’s longest customers, but even he admits he’s a very bad customer.

“I expect good service and a good product, not just from what we serve to our customers at 23hundred Espresso Bar, but from Espressology. I’m a real critic, and Espressology has always been 10/10 in my book, so that’s saying something,” Peter says.

Operating 23hundred Espresso Bar over the years hasn’t been without its challenges. The café had a fence placed around it for 12 months with restricted access while Newcastle developed its light rail system, resulting in a 70 per cent drop in trade. Then came the decision to host the Supercars Championship, turning the surrounding streets into a racetrack circuit, and then COVID-19 hit. Thankfully, Peter says “business is back” and at full capacity, churning out well over 50 to 60 kilograms of coffee per week.

“Around 65 per cent of our business is coffee. We’re a dedicated espresso shop that’s always focused on delivering a quality product,” Peter says. “I’m a bit pedantic but I’ve always ensured we keep our standards high – it’s the only way to guarantee return trade if you’re not in a premium location. Create a bit of banter, make the customer laugh, give them a good coffee, and a reason to come back again.”

Instaurator says attitudes like Peters are a refreshing reminder that quality can’t be compromised, even in a market that’s seeing a strong uptake of retail coffee and “enormous demand” from online start-up businesses wanting to make their foray into the coffee world.

“It’s becoming a tough environment, and a very competitive market,” Instaurator says.

“What these new businesses have to remember is that it’s OK to come into the market offering a low product price to begin with, but if they want longevity, they’re going to find themselves in a pressure situation later on. Those that have a solid business model focused on delivering a quality product will go far, and we’d be happy to help them on that journey and realise their business potential.”

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This article appears in the June 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.
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