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A look at the workings of The Coffee Club.

 

7Some new ideas come about by complete accident – gunpowder, for example! Others are more or less forced into being by sheer necessity. Wellington boots and umbrellas, wheels with rubber tyres, the fountain pen, sticky yellow Post-it notes spring to mind, along with around a thousand others. But, in order to get to the heart of this story you’ll need to talk to two men; two friends who once fancied a coffee on the way home from a night out. This was 1989 in downtown Brisbane. And they couldn’t find a decent coffee anywhere.

    Yes, sure, there were vending machines aplenty, and various trendy outlets where you could get paper cups full of flavoured froth. But a clean, strong, revitalising espresso? In a pleasant place to sit awhile and talk at leisure? Such a thing just didn’t exist. That made Emmanuel Kokoris and Emmanuel Drivas think. It also made them talk a lot, too. And so, over the next month or two, they formulated plans to fill this very notable gap in the market. What was needed was an accessible and cosy coffee shop which stayed open late, and sold blends of premium coffee. Well, that’s they idea they began with, anyway.

      But it didn’t take so long to expand the concept. Coffee alone wasn’t enough. And why place the stress only on late-night opening? Thus what began as a small idea evolved into creating a smart and desirable environment where people could meet, greet and eat – and get a great coffee, too. The original idea of lite-bites was expanded to include not only these but an entire range of quality snacks and meals, too. The first ‘Coffee Club’ opened in Brisbane on 2nd November 1989 and was an immediate hit. So much so that, over the next few years, six more outlets were established, each of them adhering tightly to the same established formula for what was now a proven recipe for success

 

 On Samui, for example,
the customer-base is
predominantly tourists.
Thus the emphasis is on a
wider range of American
and European dishes

      

     But the group’s big breakthrough came in 2007 – although by this time The Coffee Club had already established itself as Australia’s top coffee house with the best part of 200 branches nationwide. They were approached by Minor International (MINT), one of Thailand’s leading hotel operators, in association with such names as Four Seasons and Marriott, and with access to just about every major shopping mall in the country. It was a partnership with pleasing mutual advantages: At a stroke MINT gained hundreds of Australian outlets for promoting its brand of Swensen’s ice-creams, and The Coffee Club was readily able to expand into Asia and the Middle East. In 2008 the first outlet opened in Phuket. And, very shortly afterwards, a branch opened on Samui, right in the heart of Chaweng.

       By this time the Coffee Club philosophy had settled itself to encompass an international model: the main thrust being that every outlet should maintain the same corporate identity – the same bright, comfortable décor, top blends of coffee and high quality cuisine at affordable prices. The only divergence that appeared was that national or regional tastes were also reflected in the food; hence the Thai dishes (that you’d no doubt expect!) in the branches in Thailand.

      Also, wisely, in order to fit in with any given environment, three different formats of ‘shop’ evolved. The shopping centre ‘kiosks’ that are so familiar throughout Australia, serving light meals and gourmet sandwiches. Then the larger ‘Clubs’ and finally the ‘Café Bar and Restaurant’ approach; a sit-down licensed restaurant with full table service, where customers can enjoy a complete dining experience with the ability to choose from an extensive menu. And this is just what you’ll find in Chaweng.

      It’s an attractive and fresh-looking building on two floors (plus the kitchen above this), with lots of glass at the front and an outside courtyard. Although you can enjoy the same quality of coffee in the restaurant upstairs, the ground floor is much more casually laid-out, featuring the coffee counter and resident baristas, the Swenson’s ice-cream parlour and serves a host of lite-bites, snacks and meals. The group’s thinking about adapting to the needs of the local environment doesn’t simply cover regional food preferences; it goes further. On Samui, for example, the customer-base is predominantly tourists. Thus the emphasis is on a wider range of American and European dishes. But Samui’s resident Thai population is more cosmopolitan and outgoing than most, and they’ve taken to the burger shops and pizza parlours in a big way. And so you’ll find a broad menu here, with dishes (and prices) that appeal to all nationalities.

      There are all-day breakfasts, including an English-style option, and the intriguing ‘Lifestyle’ alternative which features lean ham, poached eggs, mozzarella cheese and is topped with avocado. Fresh salads abound and there’s a variety of grills, nachos and burgers. There’s even fish ’n’ chips! Plus an excellent kiddies’ menu. And that’s without even mentioning the range of Thai dishes. If you think that’s impressive then wait until you see the prices. There are few places you can eat a substantial multi-course meal for around 200 baht!

      The coffee is, naturally, quite superb, with each of the baristas undergoing a long period of training in both theory and practice. The ‘Coffee Club Signature Blend’ is carefully roasted at a lower temperature and for a longer time than normal. This gives their espresso a mellow lack of harshness, but maximises the flavour without aggravating the acidity. But coffee is not the only beverage available. There’s a whole range of fruit juices and frappes, smoothies, fruit and herbal teas, and hot chocolate, too.

      All of which makes for one big success story which, in its way, is quite exclusive. Most such clubs are sought-after and are not so easy to join. But you can rest assured that The Coffee Club in Chaweng is just the opposite. It might be exclusive, but membership is free!

      

 

Rob De Wet


 


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