THE BIRTH OF RAVE... (PART 1)
Maybe I was having a mid-life crisis back in 2007, most buy a fast car or a motorbike but instead I quit my dependable job and upped sticks to the other side of the world. I was now living in Sydney Australia, coffee capital of the world (well it was back in 2007). The only downside was that my visa restricted me to just 20 hours of work per week. And 20 hours didn’t go very far in a city where bread cost $6!
Because of the 20 hours work a week thing, I decided that a normal job wouldn’t cut it. The answer was that I needed to work for myself. So I set about turning my love of coffee from a hobby into something that would pay the bills. When asking “Where’s the best place to train as a barista?” One name kept coming up, Tony Vitello, an Italian guy running a coffee school in the City. In all honesty I thought that I could make pretty good coffee already but, according to Tony, I was wrong. He then spent the next few weeks showing me how. Then I found a company that could turn my newly acquired VW transporter into a coffee making mecca. With brand new stainless steel cabinetry, a plumbed-in generator, a commercial coffee machine plus a grinder mounted in the rear, I could now make coffee where others couldn’t. The final touch was the sign writing and Rave was born.
I had also just learned my first lesson in business; I was over promised & under delivered and it left a nasty taste, I would make sure that Rave would always try to do the opposite. Despite this I really loved that van.
I had some successes and some failures with launching Rave in Australia. Things changed when I scored a gig at a local surf club, on a beach called Long Reef. It was a beautiful hot sunny morning and as I pulled into the car park next to the beach, I noticed a big shack that had a sign above saying “Long Reef Kiosk”. It was boarded up and looked abandoned.
Two surfboards hung on the wall, written on them in chalk was a coffee menu. I enquired about why the kiosk was abandoned, apparently something to do with the tenant being in dispute with the council. This was an opportunity at least until the dispute was resolved. I chatted with the surf club guys, who were great and we came to an arrangement where I would serve coffee and pay them commission. Everyone was winning!
I spent the next two years working at that beach, serving coffee 20 hours per day, sorry I mean 20 hours per week. My days started early, serving coffee to the guys who were catching a wave before heading off to work in the City. At weekends the beach was rammed and how much money I took was governed solely by how fast I could keep the line moving. Most days that line didn’t go away.
A CHANGE OF DIRECTION
Not satisfied with simply serving coffee, I had been blending and roasting coffee at home for some time and decided to experiment by offering it to my customers. I really liked it and it turns out my customers did too. It was around this time that I was introduced to someone who ended up being pivotal with my direction in coffee. He was introduced to me as George, the Godfather of coffee. He taught me my next big business lesson: As a barista I was limited to how much coffee I could make in an hour, as a wholesale roaster, my ability to make great coffee was multiplied to every cafe grinder that contained Rave. It was so simple but it blew my mind. With just a few words, he changed the direction of the business and set me on the path to where I am today. Crazy, right? He was another Italian btw, funny how they keep cropping up.
Heeding the advice from the Godfather, I made my way to see a guy who agreed to share his roasting secrets with me. When I say agreed, what I really mean is that I paid him lots of money to do so. I made my way out of the City to his cafe, which had just shut for the day. The atmosphere was still thick with the smell of fresh coffee and customers who’d just left. It was 30 degrees outside and felt even hotter inside. The cafe had bare wooden floorboards and over to one side was an old cast iron commercial coffee roaster, with sacks of green coffee next to it. We spent the next few hours roasting coffee, where I was constantly adjusting gas settings and scribbling down temperature and airflow settings every minute. The airflow tube was thrown out of the back door and the smoke drifted down the street. Although the heat from the roaster was burning my face, it was magical. Time disappeared whilst stood next to that roaster and I knew instantly that’s what I wanted to do. As I write this, it takes me right back to that moment…
To be continued...