Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters General Manager Jody Leslie and Head of Coffee Nich Rae discuss the brand’s evolution as an industry leader, and the many people who have contributed to its success.
When asked what Toby’s Estate’s greatest development has been throughout its 25-year history, Head of Coffee Nich Rae believes it’s none other than its prestigious reputation.
“Toby’s has always been a reputable roaster when it comes to making blended coffee and milk-based coffee. I think the greatest development for us has been establishing that as a narrative, but also factually backing it up with how consistent our product is,” says Nich.
“Year on year we have the best blends in market, and even through COVID-19, we were able to maintain that extremely high-quality offering to our cafés. I think that’s held us in good stead over the last 25 years.”
General Manager Jody Leslie says she wants Toby’s Estate to be known as an industry veteran that still pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a quality cup of coffee.
“While we’ve been around for some time, there’s still a young and vibrant energy here at Toby’s. As a General Manager, my problem isn’t finding new ideas, it’s just prioritising which ones to purse right now. Our history and experience only make us more excitable,” Jody says.
“As an ‘OG’ in the coffee community, we’re quite proud of our history and our impact over the years. We’re proud of Australian coffee in general. Our collaborative approach to business has stood the test of time and solidified our success in the Australian coffee industry.”
Jody was appointed Toby’s Estate General Manager in mid-January 2019, where she has harnessed her passion, drive, and industry knowledge to advance Toby’s Estate.
“A sole focus for us over the last few years has been maintaining producer relationships. While the global pandemic put a test to that, we’ve weathered the ups and downs and preserved those connections through the hard times. We saw the benefits of that continued investment and buying coffee consistently to improve producers’ ability to earn more money and achieve a better way of life,” Jody says.
Nich adds that that the return to origin to visit producers after two years away has really solidified how important these relationships are.
“When you visit producers and farmers overseas and see where our product comes from, you come back to work with a newly invigorated sense of passion to make each coffee the best it can be,” he says.
“Being able to travel internationally again and visit our producers shows us how much of an impact we can have on origin, but also how much of an impact they have on us. It makes the job more than a job.”
In under a decade, Nich has risen through the ranks at Toby’s Estate, from becoming Assistant Head Roaster in 2016, to Head Roaster, before earning his current title as Head of Coffee.
“Becoming Head Roaster was a huge goal for me, it was a very challenging journey, and when I finally reached that goal it was a huge moment for me. It’s one of my fondest memories at Toby’s and shows how committed the company is to helping staff progress their coffee careers,” Nich says.
That commitment is returned from the dedicated team working behind the scenes who are passionate about keeping quality standards high.
“We’ve invested in a sizeable team internally to help our customers deliver consistency at their cafés, featuring our tech, sales, coffee, and training teams. Even the accounts team helped our café partners make it through the tougher times of COVID-19. As a café, you need support from a roaster from all sides of the business, and Toby’s offers that in all the main areas you need to be successful,” Nich says.
Both Jody and Nich agree that Toby’s Estate’s evolution is thanks, in part, to its forward-thinking values. As coffee became more of a profession, Toby’s Estate developed its employment offerings to cater for the growing demand for specialty coffee.
“Twenty-five years ago, coffee was a passion project for many people. Now, there’s many opportunities for baristas and coffee focused people to progress within a roastery or café. That’s what I love about Toby’s because that’s what they did for me. And when I look to my left and right, I see people that not only Toby’s, but the industry, has created a career for,” Nich says.
Jody says it’s rewarding to watch staff develop their skills and get promoted. She says the best way to grow, is when staff are offered more challenging opportunities. “The more prospects we can offer people to challenge themselves, the better,” she says.
Jody says this growth is also reflected in the quality of people the company employs.
“We’ve had different owners over the years, but our core values have never changed. Every company leader has supported our love for the product and our need for quality and consistency. This is how we’ve continued our growth, without feeling the pressure to divert from those values,” Jody says.
“We’ve got a lot of support around us, from our owners, suppliers, and landlords to our employees, who maintain those values, because that’s how we hire from the start. The first question we ask prospective employees is ‘do you love coffee?’ If the answer is no, it’s ‘thank you for your time.’”
For those in the industry that answer ‘yes’, they have likely attended one of Toby’s Estate’s Knowledge Talks events over the years. Jody says the educational national tour of inspiring and talented coffee icons, such as 3fe’s Colin Harmon, Guatemalan producer Anabella Meneses or Has Bean Coffee’s Stephen Leighton, is a sign of the brand’s commitment to being protectors and supporters of specialty coffee in Australia.
“We see Knowledge Talks as a valuable tool for our internal staff and customers, that also acts as a propeller for change for Toby’s Estate. We invest in the ongoing education of not just ourselves but sharing that with the rest of the industry,” she says.
With a strong reputation to uphold, Jody says Toby’s Estate plans to commemorate its 25-year anniversary on 20 October with a “killer” party, coined ‘Octobysfest’ by the team in 2021.
“How else would a 25-year-old celebrate its birthday?” Jody asks.
“Within the month of October, we have many celebrations planned, such as a wholesale party, the epic finals of the Sydney Swirl Club event series, and a retail sale of 25 per cent off on 25 October for 25 hours,” Nich says.
Throughout October, Toby’s Estate will also offer seven limited edition coffee’s for espresso, and single origin filter coffees.
“Each month we present interesting new flavour profiles to keep our customers on their toes. This month we offer coffees from Panama, Brazil, El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Colombia,” says Nich.
With 25 years of industry contribution, Jody and Nich now look to the future and contemplate what the next 25 years may bring. For Jody, that looks like further expansion interstate and internationally.
“We’re not in as many coffee towns are we’d like. We’ve still got plenty of room to grow outside of Sydney, and international growth continues to be a focus. We’re also pursuing new formats of coffee. Having just launched cold brew cans last year, we’re keen to do a secondary push of this launch. Keep your eyes peeled for that cold brew in a few more Toby’s Estate locations this year,” Jody says.
For Nich, thoughts of the future will always be a reminder of just how far the brand has come, and the people that have contributed to its success.
“I think it’s super important that we look back at the people that really established Toby’s before me, before Jody, and all other roles. When you look around the industry, , a lot of people have at some point either worked here or had a close connection with Toby’s, no matter who they are,” Nich says.
“If you’ve ever worked at Toby’s Estate and are reading this article, you’ve contributed to our success, and its appreciated.”
For more information, visit www.tobysestate.com.au
This article appears in the October 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.