Toby’s Estate General Manager Jody Leslie on her career in food service, diving head-first into specialty coffee, and preparing for long-term growth.
In her short time as General Manager of Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters, Jody Leslie has already seen how the Australian coffee scene differs to the rest of the world.
“Compared to the United States for instance, Australia has a larger focus on specialty coffee,” Jody tells BeanScene. “If I had a theory as to why, it would be around the age of our coffee industry. It matured around the same time as the rise of specialty coffee [globally].
“Momentum wise, Australians also like to be seen as the best and punching above their weight in a lot of things. You see that in sport, and it’s reflected in coffee. Once it was recognised we were leading this area, it’s almost taken on a life of its own.”
Jody’s career has followed a similar path. At the University of Sydney, Jody studied a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in accounting and marketing.
“I didn’t want to be a marketer, so I became an accountant,” she says. “I actually have a lot of interest in food and how it starts from an ingredient, travels through the supply chain, and ends up with the consumer, so I’ve always gravitated toward the foodservice industry.”
Jody has held corporate positions in a number of food and beverage companies, including Guzman y Gomez and Frucor. However, she entered the world of foodservice management through McDonald’s, the same company in which she worked her first part-time job at the age of 15.
“They hire a lot of people who have worked in their restaurants through their corporate office, quite similarly to Toby’s Estate, where we hire a lot of people who are baristas or have café experience into our corporate organisation,” Jody says.
Among other roles, Jody served as the Vice-President/Director of Supply Chain when McDonald’s first rolled out McCafé around Australia in the early 2000s. She played a pivotal role in developing its blend and offering.
“I think Australia responded well to McCafé for two reasons. One, we were able to create some consistency in the offering, and two is on the back of why McDonald’s is successful: the combination of convenience, speed, and sensibility,” Jody says.
“At that time, [my focus] was on elevating the offering from bad American-style drip coffee to espresso-based coffee. I am excited to again be involved in coffee, nowadays elevating the specialty coffee experience which we are super passionate about at Toby’s Estate.”
Jody says while she has a growing appreciation for coffee, it’s her commercial acumen and leadership skills that make her suitable for the new GM role at Toby’s Estate, to which she was appointed in mid-January 2019.
“Toby’s Estate has a lot of passionate, knowledgeable coffee people. Part of the reason I was brought in to the role was to help harness that and continue to grow Toby’s Estate using that knowledge and drive,” she says. “Coming into this role, I was quite impressed by how passionate everyone is about keeping quality standards high. Even though we’re working with raw ingredients, from thousands of kilometres away, our ability to deliver a consistent tasting cup of coffee in every bag is what I think makes Toby’s Estate stand out.”
Jody says her supply chain experience will also prove beneficial within the coffee industry, where there is an increasing recognition of transparency and accountability.
“Coffee is a product that actually doesn’t have a lot added to it post-raw ingredient. We roast the green bean, pack it, and that’s it. If you think of other products, a lot is done to them before reaching the final product,” she says.
“That supply chain appreciation is also why I’m quite passionate about what Toby’s Estate does with its direct-to-farm relationships. Toby’s Estate has done a good job really valuing those partnerships.”
While Jody has not yet had a chance to visit origin, she plans to join Toby’s Estate Green Bean Buyer and 2015-16 French Barista Champion Charlotte Malaval on a trip in late 2019. Charlotte was with Jody when she went to the US in April to attend the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston, Massachusetts to firm up her understanding of the specialty coffee world.
“I joined the Re:co Symposium and toured the expo floor for a good two days with our Head Roaster Nicholas Rae. We got a lot of ideas and were inspired by the innovation taking place in the industry,” she says. “I also spent a fair amount of time watching those magicians participating at the World Barista Championship. I tried to convince Charlotte to compete again, but she’s ‘retired’ from competing, or so she says.”
Jody’s first exposure to barista competitions was at the 2019 Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE), where Toby’s Estate showcased its multiple espresso, filter, and cold brew coffees.
“It was my first MICE as part of a roaster and I loved how our team came together to create a fun vibe on the Toby’s Estate stand,” she says. “I absolutely love [connecting with the Australian coffee community]. I really enjoy the passion and deep knowledge about coffee that everyone has, as well as the camaraderie. Everyone is enthusiastic to raise the profile of the industry [as a whole].”
Jody experienced this firsthand at her first Knowledge Talks event in March. At the Toby’s Estate-hosted educational tour, Ever Meister of Cafe Imports spoke on traceability and marketing ethics within the specialty coffee industry, with Jody attending the Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne events.
“We see Knowledge Talks as valuable to our internal staff and customers, and as pioneers in the industry, it is a way to give back and demonstrate our commitment to being protectors and supporters of specialty coffee in Australia,” she says.
“Knowledge Talks also acts as a propeller for change for Toby’s Estate. The last one from Meister really got us thinking about what we can be doing differently. Post talk, we renewed our commitment to not using children in any of our marketing material – outside of our sponsorship of the Las Nubes Day Care – and developed an agreement form for our direct relationship farmers to approve use of any photos taken at their farms.”
Jody has spent her first few months at Toby’s Estate familiarising herself with the business and now has her sights set on the future.
“I have identified a few key opportunities for us to focus on for the rest of the year: expanding our geography and strengthening our commitment to our single origin program, including the launch of Shift Volume 2, which will hit the market soon,” she says.
The Shift series aims to change perceptions within the coffee industry. The first volume, launched in 2018, included three unidentifiable coffees, one from Brazil and two from other origins, in an attempt to challenge people’s ideas about the quality of Brazilian coffee.
“It encourages people to participate, make coffee, and ‘shift’ their perception on something they think is true,” Jody says. “I can’t give too much away about Volume 2, but there’s a new twist on Shift that we think will stir debate and conversation.”
This article appears in FULL in the June edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.