Stepping Stones

In the city that never sleeps, one would imagine caffeine fuels a decent portion of New York’s 8.4 million people.

Sure, there’s a Starbucks on each street corner, sometimes two on the same block, and endless diners serving bottomless jugs of filter coffee. But if you look carefully among the unassuming laneways, holes-in-the-wall and small art deco buildings in Midtown, West Village, and the Financial District, there lies an Australian owned company teaching New Yorkers that there’s more to coffee than a personalised takeaway cup.

Bluestone Lane is the brainchild of Melbourne-born Nicholas Stone. A former Australian rules footballer and investment banker by trade, Nicholas says the decision to start a business venture in New York was pretty simple.

“I went to the Big Apple as part of my education, and I couldn’t fathom living in New York and not having the wonderful Australian ritual and experience of going for a fantastic Melbourne brunch,” he says. “I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the alternative of going to Starbucks every day, and that inconsistency of service, product, and experience, which is transactional based rather than relationship,” he says.

Nicholas says while there were some decent coffee establishments, most were out of reach from high-density areas such as downtown Manhattan, and the Financial District. With no hospitality background, no coffee experience and only a passion to share a quintessential café experience, Nicholas did extensive research and approached his entry into the New York market like any other small business investment.

“I just knew that with the right team it was something I could achieve. I use a corny quote, but Melbourne really is the Silicon Valley of the world’s third wave coffee culture,” he says. “The amount of people investing in the value chain is amazing. I thought, ‘why can’t I leverage that with a wonderful team who care about the industry, and want to incubate that, and grow it in America?’”

As such, Nicholas surrounded himself with a Coffee Director in Jai Lot, a property expert, and people who could manage risk, finance, and growth. And it’s worked.

The first Bluestone Lane café opened in July 2013 with the promise of providing an authentic Australian café experience. In just two and a half years, Bluestone Lane has opened 10 stores and is set to unleash another 10 in 2016 alone.

“In New York, that growth is almost on a new paradigm. In Australia, unless you’re part of a large organisation, no one does it at that speed. But more importantly, no one has done it at that speed while retaining their premium brand position. Everything about Bluestone is premium, from pricing and service, to the environment and sites we acquire, which is the hardest thing to achieve.”

Nicholas says all it takes is for one store to offer an inconsistent experience, and suddenly a brand can deteriorate.

New York is such a brutal market. If you get the real estate wrong you could be over within two months. It’s not easy, but if you can crack it there’s 8 million people on a small island with great density and wonderful opportunities,” he says.

He adds the key to his initial success was opening quickly and then adding new stores to build scale, and build the brand faster in a more risk averse way.

This article features in the April edition of BeanScene Magazine. To read it in full pick up your copy here.

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