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Simplicity is King

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With eight cafes and a coffee roastery currently under his belt, Julien Moussi, 32, has spent the past eight years developing a fool-proof formula to running a successful cafe business. In between reopening iconic Ripponlea cafe Glovers Station in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown and with another venue just days away, he shares some lessons he has learnt along the way.
 

BY BELLE KWAN

 

Q: Let’s start from the beginning – how did a football (VFL) player and personal trainer end up becoming one of Australia’s most successful hospitality owners in such a short time? 

It all began in 2011 – I was playing in the VFL and was a personal trainer, and then disaster struck – I suffered an ACL tear. I was out of the game for a year and decided to start up a coffee cart business to service the weekend footy crowds. My dad ran pubs and restaurants while I was growing up, so I was no stranger to the hospitality trade, and while playing football in Canberra, I gained experience working at a cafe, and became pretty good at making a decent cup of coffee.

The coffee cart business did well, and I managed to save enough money to open my own cafe, Annoying Brother Espresso, in Fitzroy North. Once I got a bite of the cafe bug, I was hooked. I started up my company, Only Hospitality Group, and along with various business partners, have owned 18 venues across Melbourne and Queensland, along with Inglewood Coffee Roasters that supplies to over 80 venues around Australia.

Q: Did you always have aspirations of following in your father’s footsteps of being in the hospitality industry?

This is a funny one – but when I left school, I actually had very little interest in the hospitality trade. Throughout my childhood I saw how hands-on running a restaurant was, and was under the impression that if you owned restaurants and cafes, it meant you had to be deeply involved in the operations of each venue, and I was not keen on that.

However, once I started running my own cafe, and bought over a number of other venues, I realised the secret to a successful cafe business is for me to work on the business, and not in the business itself. My father became a business mentor to me through these years, and taught me so much about the importance of getting the foundation of each venue right, and at the same time not losing sight of the big picture for the overall business. My sisters are also cafe owners, so our whole family is deeply passionate about food, service and offering people a memorable experience.

Q: Not wanting to give your formula to success away, but could you give us an insight on what it takes to start and maintain a successful cafe business in Melbourne?

It really isn’t that much of a huge secret at all. When deciding whether or not a venue is worth us investing in, we consider a few key factors, including foot traffic, what amenities are around the location, and the number of people per square kilometre. Once we decide on a spot, then we get cracking on getting the basics right, and we put a lot of focus into perfecting the intangibles. What this means is that we strive to create an all- round experience for our customer – from the minute they see the venue from the outside, to when they walk in, who greets them, what they see, smell and hear ... it is all about delivering that ‘wow factor’ even before a customer gets seated or has their coffee and meals brought to them.

Q: How much work goes into designing a cafe’s menu?

To be honest, I am a huge believer in the beauty of simplicity. Yes, every cafe needs to have that ‘Instagram-worthy’ or marketable dish that will create a bit of buzz, but what ultimately makes a cafe’s menu work boils down to: good quality and flavour, variety and getting the basics right. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or come up with crazy ideas – what is crucial is ensuring we have healthy options, we have dishes to suit various dietary requirements, we have something for the boys and something for the girls, and that every dish that leaves the kitchen tastes fantastic.

I often look to fast food giant McDonald’s as an example. They have been market leaders for so long, and no matter where you go around the world, you know that you can expect that same level of consistency and quality when you walk into one of their restaurants. The brand have earned their customers’ trust and have stood the test of the time by keeping things simple, consistent and at a good quality.

Q: Give us a little insight about your own cafe habits – how do you take your coffee, what’s your favourite brunch order, and what has been a recent memorable brunch experience?

I try to limit myself to two-three coffees a day, usually a double espresso or a Magic. My go-to brunch order is usually chilli scrambled eggs, although I am absolutely in love with Glovers Station’s smoked trout bagel. I recently had a pastrami and cheese croissant from Falco Bakery in Collingwood and it blew my mind!

 

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