Genovese Coffee, one of Australia’s oldest family owned coffee roasters, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020.
Few names are as synonymous with coffee in Australia as Genovese, and that’s with good reason. From humble beginnings in 1970, Genovese Coffee has grown from a small roasting outfit into one of the country’s largest and most influential roasters.
Managing Director Adam Genovese says while much has changed over the years, the business has held onto its family values.
“It makes us all feel very proud to still be a family and Australian owned business 50 years later. There’s a few still left in our industry, but not many,” Adam says.
“My grandfather [Genovese Coffee Founder Alfio Genovese] really wanted to do things – introduce European-style Italian coffee to the market – in the way he thought it should be done. We’ve remained true to that style and heritage.”
Alfio and his family migrated from Sicily, Italy, to Western Australia in 1950, before moving to Sydney five years later where he worked for an Italian food importer.
Around that time, other roasters like Mocopan, Coffex, and Grinders had started up and found success in Melbourne, so in 1958, the company sent Alfio to help establish a roastery in the city.
Towards the end of the 1960s, Alfio and his wife Maria discussed creating a business that could involve their children and leave them a legacy.
“In 1970, the roaster arrived, was set up [in a small factory on Lygon Street], and off they went,” Adam says.
“The market was very European and Italian focused. Only four or five roasters existed in Melbourne at the time. Almost all had an Italian background, and they mostly served that community in the northern suburbs. There wasn’t a lot of demand for espresso style coffee because most people were using traditional stovetop percolators and Moka pots.”
Despite the small market, Genovese Coffee was able to build enough of a following that it needed to expand to its current site in Coburg in 1975. Adam says it wasn’t long before espresso coffee culture became more mainstream across Australia.
“We saw a massive growth in espresso-based coffee in the 80s, so the family decided to just focus on really good espresso coffee,” Adam says.
“We drink a lot more milk coffees here, so we made our coffee more suited to the Australian palate than traditional Italian roasting and blending.”
The mid 1980s saw Genovese Coffee not only rework its roasts but rename its business. Up to that point, the coffee brand had been known as Genrex Coffee, but it was time for the business to embrace its Italian roots and puts the family name front and centre.
Another huge milestone the brand reached around that time was exporting its first bags of retail coffee to Singapore.
“Being able to export coffee to another country was a big achievement for a small family business,” Adam says. “Our export opportunities grew from there. We started exporting to individual cafés in Paris, the United States, even to Sri Lanka.”
At the time, coffee roasters imported the majority of professional grinders and espresso machines, with few if any third-party service and equipment specialists. Genovese Coffee worked with an equipment manufacturer called Eterna up until production closed in the mid 1980s. Since then, Genovese has held a long and fruitful partnership with Italian espresso machine manufacturer Wega.
“Wega had just started up and my grandfather actually knew the person who designed the first Wega machine, inspired by the Faema E61 model. The opportunity came for us to be their distributor in Australia and we have been since 1987,” Adam says.
“That model of inhouse service and technicians within a roaster is not that common these days, but it gives us an added level of service to our customers. If they need a new machine, we’ve got access to it straight away. We hold a warehouse full of espresso machines and grinders and we’re not relying on stock availability of a third-party importer.”
Adam grew up with the roastery as part of his life. So, it was a natural fit when he started working directly with the business after finishing school in the early 90s.
“While I was studying at university, I’d take every opportunity to work in the business, whether that be sales or production,” Adam says. “I was never told I have to go into the family business, but I loved it so much.
“A lot of my best memories with my father and grandfather are tied to the business. Whether that’s with my grandfather on Saturday mornings in the roastery, or cross-country road trips with my father to see clients.”
Until the late 90s, Genovese Coffee had been a very Victoria-centric business, with a small handful of clients in other states and territories. As these numbers continued to grow, the family had to look at how it could better cater to other markets.
“Melbourne was known as the place you go for great coffee – now it’s all over Australia – and there was a lot of attention on Melbourne coffee roasters over that period,” Adam says.
“Through word of mouth, we were getting more and more interstate clients approaching us and the time came to set up an office is Sydney. Now, we also have a strong business in Brisbane and a national distributor.”
Genovese Coffee expanded its Coburg roastery in 2002 to facilitate this new demand, automating much of the process while keeping full control of how the team liked to roast.
The number of roasters in Australia has exploded over the last two decades. Adam says there’s been a lot more competition, but also demand to go with it.
“Specialty coffee and that whole area of the market pushed a lot of existing businesses to try and change their style to suit that space,” he says.
“We love specialty coffee and what it’s done for our industry, but we also really focused on keeping to our traditional methods and styles. We added a specialty division to our brand rather than change everything we already do.”
Adam says there is still – and always will be – a huge portion of the market that love the good quality, full bodied coffees Genovese is known for. But shared values and practices have helped Genovese to fit in and work well with the emerging specialty market.
“We’re so focused on service, support, and education in the coffee space, and sustainability and ethical trading with our coffee partners around the world,” Adam says.
“We’ve always done that in the same way, the right way, and the way specialty coffee says it should be done.”
In the last year, COVID-19 has impacted a large section of the industry. But it has also widened access to a part of the market that Adam thinks has long been underserved: the home.
“COVID has changed the landscape. We’ve seen a large increase in our online sales. Since March, it’s pretty much doubled and stayed there, and it was healthy beforehand,” Adam says.
“There’s still a lot of instant coffee drunk in Australia and there’s a good opportunity to deliver ethical and sustainable espresso coffee to more people at home.”
Adam’s father Danny retired several years ago, and Adam now runs the business with his uncle Ray and cousin Emilio. He says he will know he’s made his mark on Genovese Coffee when he passes the business on to the next generation.
“Remaining family owned has allowed us to be flexible. We don’t have corporate governance from above and we’ve kept a team approach. A lot of our team have been with us for 10 years, some as long as 30. Our customers feel that inclusiveness as well,” Adam says.
“I’m third generation, but it’s more like a half step, because I was quite close to the second. What I hope I brought to the business is the ability to stay family owned and not have to look for outside ownership or divestment because I’ve bridged that gap.”
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