Living The Café Dream

February 20, 2020


When a book launch is sold out you know there’s something resonating with people. Dr Judy Gregory’s book ‘Newbies in the Café’ launched to a packed house at West End’s Avid Reader on a humid, thundery Brisbane night. As Judy found out, a lot of people have the ‘café’ dream’. What she also found out was that reality doesn’t begin to match the dream. 

Like so many other people—Judy estimates about 1000 new cafes spring up every year and last about the length of their lease—she and her partner Anne-Maree Jaggs decided a café was a viable option for a second career. As Judy says, she did her research, wrote her management plans and dreamed of a pleasant 10 years building the business before gracefully retiring. But the reality was very different.  After her own café failure, Judy realised how common her experience was and put out a call on Facebook for other people to share their stories. The result is a selection of 11 café owner’s experiences. It “is the book she wishes she had read before embarking on her café dream”.  

It is not a prescriptive book about the do’s and don’ts of small business, although Judy has called on her technical writing expertise and included advice on writing management plans in the final pages. As she says there is no one way to do things and everyone has their own vision, running a café is after all essentially a people business. It is the loyal customer and community that will keep the doors open—the trick is working out the successful formula. Making this point at the launch were café owners Alex Milosovic (Extraction, artisan coffee roasting and café in Logan City) and Anne Roussac-Hoyne (Cow Cow café in Foster near Wilsons Promontory). Alex is a former steel fabricator who is committed to Extraction’s growth into a regional destination, whereas Anne is a former French teacher now gallery owner who accidently fell into café ownership. 

Can you make a living from a coffee café? There is no easy answer to this question. But Judy’s book of cautionary tales and “lessons from behind the counter” certainly highlights considerations—from GST and staffing issues, to exit plans and impacts on family. The final chapter is a baker’s dozen of lessons learned. A short concise collective wisdom written clearly and accessibly to both inform and alert—but this is not an alarmist book. 

This short readable book is a celebration of the passion, optimism and courage of all those café dreamers chasing an idea signposted by perfect cups of coffee and poached eggs on toasted sourdough.

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