Nov 8, 2020
Are you like us and addicted to coffee? Then you know how important it is to have a kick-ass local, to feed that caffeine addiction. In the most cutthroat café city of Australia, Melbourne is home to 3 sensational cafes. Kodama Coffee. Boma Coffee. Pango Coffee. Close to our hearts, take it from us that they serve the best coffee in the West. And with a killer menu to go with it. (Not just your standard avo & poached eggs) We sat down with one of the three owners, Tash to find out how it all started and what goes on behind the scenes of running 3 local cafes.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us in between your busy schedule Tash. With Cody (your partner) at Kodama fixing the coffee machine and unable to make the interview, tell us how you both met?
My sister, Chloe and I, were born in Zimbabwe. We moved around with our family from southern Africa to Dubai. Eventually we moved with our family to Perth, then to Brisbane where I studied Business at Bond University. It was in Queensland where I met Cody about 6 years ago. He had moved from his home country, New Zealand. We both met working at a local café, owned by Nick Pearce who is originally from Melbourne. I was working at the café part time while studying and Cody was a barista.
Having settled in Brisbane, what made you decide to move down to Melbourne?
It was actually my parents who moved here first. Chloe and I came to visit and just fell in love with the place. Chloe finished her degree and moved down here. I actually deferred my degree and moved to Melbourne for a year. Unable to transfer my Uni credits, I moved back to QLD for a year to finish my degree. Cody and I did long distance for about a year and eventually he moved down after enjoying the city.
You own the business with your sister Chloe and partner Cody. What’s it like managing a business with 2 other owners across 3 locations?
It’s been really good. We get along super well. We are all like best friends. All of us had a similar idea for what we wanted the business to look like. We all bring different strengths to the team, so it’s great that we aren’t overlapping too much.
Chloe does a lot of the back-of-house stuff. Her forte is interior design so she has built a lot of the shops and actually had the vision for what our first café, Kodama was going to look like.
Cody manages all the coffee side of things. So, he manages the relationships with our coffee suppliers, milk suppliers and making sure that all of our suppliers that we work with have a similar value system to ours. We are really big on sustainability and want to work with likeminded suppliers. Cody also trains all of our baristas and head baristas.
And then operationally I manage everything front of house. So, I do most of the hiring of the staff, training of the staff and work really closely with the chefs around menu curation. A lot of the admin side of things as well. Rostering, payroll and invoicing. Which is actually something I’ve really enjoyed learning.
Overall, it’s worked well because we’ve always been in line with what we want for the business. We all have a very similar ethos.
How would you describe the style of your cafes?
I guess we’ve tried to differentiate all three. We wanted to have some commonality between them all so people would know they were owned by the same group but the main thing we focus on is community at all the shops. Making sure that we are listening to the local community in terms of what they want on the menu. What product they want. And just making sure that we (and all of our staff) are making really great connections with our regular customers. We also try to ensure that all of our suppliers are local. To sum up I would say that we are aiming for a modern Australian, simple but really high-quality menu, combined with store fit outs that are minimal and equally simple.
Melbourne has such a competitive café scene. How did you land on Williamstown as the ideal location to open your first café, Kodama Coffee?
It all started with my parents actually. My parents were looking to buy a place and they went to an auction with my sister here in Williamstown. We were living in Hawthorn in the east and had never ventured over to the west. They were like “how have we not been down here? The water is so beautiful.” After walking around and exploring the area they really struggled to find a café with great food and coffee. I guess the market is quite saturated in the east of Melbourne.
My sister and I always wanted to own our own café, so my parents really encouraged us to pursue the idea. We spent months looking for the right location to open until we finally discovered our first location. We originally planned a small hole-in-the-wall café so finding a 60-seater space was much bigger than our initial idea. The shop had so much work to do but Chloe was confident in what we could achieve in the space.
This question was actually meant for Cody. As timing would have it, he has just returned from fixing the coffee machine at Kodama. Perfect timing to ask, how do you make the perfect cup of coffee?
Cody: Wow. Good question. There’s certainly a lot involved in a cup of coffee. I guess once you have perfected the taste of your espresso, 80% to 90% of the final taste then comes down to the milk. Making sure you are steaming the milk perfectly.
Picking and roasting the coffee beans is obviously just as important as how the barista uses them. I was lucky enough to be asked to visit Guatemala and Costa Rica a few years ago with our coffee supplier. We got to meet the farmers and see how it was processed. We tasted hundreds and hundreds of different sorts of coffee. We graded our favourites out of 400 different versions. From there, the crops were picked and then for the next 6 months they were farmed and then shipped to Australia. It was great to be a part of the entire process. Picking the actual beans that our customers would consume and knowing where it’s come from and how our coffee has been supplied.
Pango Coffee is the third edition to the group. Located near Newport train station. Boma Coffee was your second café. Positioned in Yarraville. Kodama was the first café in the group. That’s 3 cafes in 3 years! What was the reason for each location having a different name?
We thought having the same name would mean that the group would become, I guess like a chain. We have never really had a positive correlation with chain restaurants. We wanted to be able to do something different in each shop. Different menu, different fit out. Mainly so we didn’t get bored. It allowed us more freedom with each space. It’s also been great for the staff too. They can move around to all 3 cafes and get something different from each space.
So, we are obsessed with the breaky board at Kodama. We just can’t bring ourselves to ordering anything else. It is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! How do you decide what goes on the menu? How often do you change the menu?
The menus at Kodama and Boma are fairly similar. Boma was our second location to open so we knew that the menu worked and wanted to keep it simple. It has changed slightly. Now that we have learnt more about our Yarraville customer. It’s surprising how each café is 10 minutes apart from each other, yet the customer’s demand is completely different. We have certainly listened to our customers to ensure we have adjusted the menus accordingly.
Pango was the menu that we were most excited about. Pango is much bigger in kitchen space, so our super talented Head Chef, Django and team, have more room to be able to put more creative meals on the menu. We also wanted to give the customer a reason to visit all three venues.
We try to keep the staples on all the time and adjust other dishes based on season. For example, in summer we have the acai bowl and then in winter we replace it with our signature porridge. We really want to ensure that we are using both local and seasonal produce for each menu.
With all three cafes open 7 days a week, how do you and Cody spend your nights?
In the past we have been really bad, usually working with laptops until 9pm at night. We have started getting better at taking a break. We have very little time off. We are always working on new concepts. Boma will be open this summer in the evenings doing burgers. Pango will also be doing nights soon. We always have ideas but very little time to put them into action. We really love what we do and are super passionate about it, so our conversation always seems to gravitate toward work stuff.
Dream holiday destination? South America. Was meant to be going to Patagonia before the pandemic broke but it will have to wait.
What’s your coffee order?
Long black for me.
Cody used to be flat white, then he stopped drinking milk, so he went to long black. Now he is onto almond lattes.
Who cooks at home? I do. (Tash answers very quickly before clarifying) Well, I lie. I used to do most of the cooking, but we have recently had Cody’s younger brother come and live with us. Now we take it in turns equally, but they don’t love it. I definitely enjoy it more and do the lion’s share.
Who owns the most shoes? I do. Definitely for sure. Love my shoes.
Are you a heels, flats or boots kinda gal? It used to be heels. But now I would have to say I equally love flats and boots. Can I be both? Haha
Favourite cherrichella style?
I love block heels so my pick would have to be the Wicked Mules in latte. love the raffia covering.