How Merchant Coffee Roasters scaled its operations

IMF Roastquip

Mat Picone of Merchant Coffee Roasters reveals how Roastquip and IMF helped him scale up his operation and fulfil his dream of putting regional Victoria on the coffee map.

When Mat and Lee Picone moved from Melbourne to Mansfield, regional Victoria, in 2014 to open a roastery café, they had vague plans they’d dabble in a bit of wholesale roasting on the side of their main operation.

For experienced barista Mat, the main agenda was introducing the kind of specialty coffee he knew and loved in Melbourne to his new local community.

Like all good things, word spread fast about the café, Mansfield Coffee Merchant, and the own-roasted coffee his team were serving. Requests for beans to brew at home soon turned into wholesale enquiries from other businesses in the area.

“I wanted to create a Melbourne café in the middle of the country,” says Mat. “We bought a five-kilogram Roastmax and put it in the window. I didn’t anticipate we’d get as busy as we did as quickly as we did. It took off straight away and the requests for wholesale coffee soon started rolling in.”

Within just 18 months, the five-kilogram roaster was being outpaced by orders. The acquisition of a few key clients meant the team were roasting around the clock.

“When you start roasting eight hours a day, seven days a week on a single roaster you realise something has to change,” says Mat.

“In 2015, we took the plunge and bought a 15-kilogram Roastmax from Will Notaras at Roastquip and signed the lease on a standalone roasting venue. It was at that point we split the café business from the roasting side, establishing Merchant Coffee Roasters.”

Mansfield Coffee Merchant
Image: Merchant Coffee Roasters

Over the next few years, the Merchant Coffee Roasters brand continued to grow, acquiring café partners across Victoria and beyond.

“We got to that point again when we were roasting all hours of the day and needed to decide where the business was going,” he says. “With young kids at home, moving more into the roasting side of the business was going to give me a better work/family life balance.”

The answer for Mat was buying a plot of land and investing in a 60-kilogram IMF from Italy with the help of Will at Roastquip, IMF’s Australian agent. Keen to stay in his local community, in 2019 work started on a new roastery in Mansfield with an adjoining café including views into the working roastery.

“It was very important for me to keep the roastery in Mansfield,” says Mat. “It’s part of who we are and it’s a point of difference for us. We’re always eager to spread the word that you don’t have to be in Melbourne to get great coffee.”

Since the new roastery was completed in 2021, Merchant Coffee Roasters has rapidly increased its production output to around 2.1 tonnes a week – growing to up to 3 tonnes a week during the winter thanks to the popularity of its partners in the nearby alpine resorts.

“Using the IMF, the growth has been seamless,” says Mat. “I know with this size we’ve got plenty of room to continue to grow, it’s just a case of putting a few more roasts through the machine.”

Working with Will previously, for Mat it was an obvious choice to collaborate with Roastquip to take his business to the next level.

“We’ve always had a really good experience with Will, so knowing we’d get that unrivalled support was really important,” he says. “It has been in here for nearly two years now and it’s never missed a beat. We love it.”

One of the features of the IMF RM60 that appealed to Mat and team most was its energy efficiency and low carbon-footprint.

“The fact it reuses the heat and can operate on much less gas than standard machines really appealed to us for both environmental and economic reasons,” he says.

In fact, the machine’s gas saving features and recirculating heat technology saves up to 47 per cent in gas consumption thanks to a single burner.

The clean recirculating heat from the combustion chamber is controlled electronically to provide one-degree air temperature accuracy inside the drum. Once the 12-step profile is programmed, every roast will be consistent whether it’s the first or last roast of the day.

Mat says it’s a machine almost anyone can get a handle of in just a few hours of training. The IMF automatically loads the green coffee, precision roasts, cools, destones the coffee, and empties the chaff into a bin.

“We can be packing coffee while we’re roasting, saving valuable time and labour costs. When developing new blends or single origins, we can operate the roaster in manual, semi-automatic, or fully automatic mode. It also connects with Cropster and Artisan data loggers, and has a modem fitted for remote assistance which is peace of mind for us since we are in a regional area. The technology in the machine is incredible,” says Mat.

The installation of the 60-kilogram roaster has enabled Mat and team to continue to expand the Merchant Coffee brand throughout regional Victoria. Yet, however big it may become, their focus will always remain on supporting other regional businesses.

“Regional partners will always be our first focus,” says Mat. “When I initially opened the café in Mansfield, before we started roasting for ourselves, I quickly realised I wasn’t getting the support from coffee suppliers that I would have received if I was in the city.

“Delivering that high level of service became a real focus of ours and will continue to be so.”

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This article appears in the June 2024 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.