There are many places I could start my story, but there is a particular turning point early on in my career that stands out as a pivotal moment in my journey.
On this day, I walked away from a senior position in a high end, corporate hospitality role to take a cash-in-hand job as the day supervisor at a small, family run coffee house in my home town. I still remember the café owner triple checking with me – ‘now, you realise this is just ten dollars an hour, right?’ I couldn’t have been more liberated by my new pay packet.
What I left behind that day has forever influenced how I have approached my teams, customers, service style, design, products and overall philosophy to business. What I moved into allowed me to more fully express my history of beautiful memories around coffee, food and occasions that were part of my upbringing with both German and Australian grandparents.
My Oma (who we affectionately called Omi) lived close by and was a master of creating family occasions. Out would come her precious, fine porcelain, carefully carried across the oceans from Germany. Lace cloths would adorn tables that were secretly extended with planks of wood on tea chests, to accommodate the growing number of grandchildren. The gramophone played, the dumplings boiled and the bread and bratwurst were enjoyed. There was conversation, warmth, laughter and a feast that always ended with the bringing out of her prized coffee pot. The coffee ritual is embedded in my memory, as the unusually long spout would always wreak havoc on its first pour through, sending thick creamy grounds into the cup. It was a tradition that Omi always took that first cup to suffer the gritty texture.
My Grandma, on the other hand, lived in the country, and provided a uniquely Aussie version of casual family gatherings. Grandma not only taught me how to drink perfectly brewed tea and bake, but she also taught me how to create a ‘spread’ of food more suited to grazing. Breakfast was enjoyed over long conversations that extended through lunch and generally didn’t finish up until late afternoon, when most of the grown-ups would recline for a rest after a few bevvies.
What I learned from these women is that coffee, food and wine are the co-stars in the experience of bringing people together, and that there is magic in the alchemy of creating a beautiful setting based on a foundation of love and good intention. This is at the heart of what I’ve carried with me to this day, what I will take with me into the next chapter of my journey and what I will encourage with the business owners with which I work.