Published in the Nelson Mail 19.09.18
Guy McCracken used to own Café on Oxford, a nice, bright café in Richmond where they serve great food and where Guy used his barista skills to craft some of the best coffee in the region.
You may remember that back in 2013 McCracken competed at the world Brewers Cup in Melbourne and was placed 7th in the world using a French Press (plunger) and a specially prepared roasted coffee bean from Panama.
When I wrote about Café on Oxford a couple of years ago Guy showed me there is a lot more to great coffee than my favourite double-shot espresso, he has now turned his hand to roasting the perfect coffee bean so he can continue his love affair with coffee.
Society, as it has quickly become known, is located beside the new Caltex service station on the corner of Salisbury and Champion Roads opposite Raeward Fresh in Richmond and, of course, they do more than roast coffee beans; Louise Stack is the Head Chef and is also a Director of the business along with Guy. As well as being responsible for the delicious food that comes from the kitchen she has also been involved in the development of the Society Coffee Roasters business and brand, from concept to up-and-running.
Guy had been roasting coffee at his old business but kept the roaster when he sold it with the intention of setting up a business focused on creating the perfect coffee roast for the wholesale market and as well as selling cups of his handcrafted coffee.
When they were looking for a site the opportunity to establish in the new development came with the potential for a small café to compliment the roasting business and was one of the main reasons they are only open five days a week, “not being open at the weekend was a bit of a selfish choice, we have worked 7 days for so long we want to have time to enjoy life a bit too and because the intention is to grow the wholesale side of the business Monday to Friday works well for us” say Guy.
He told me that while some people were a little frustrated they weren’t open on Saturday and Sunday those people have come to respect the decision, “we could make more money opening seven days but we wouldn’t have a life and would have all the extra stress too, we do have ideas for the business going forward, especially around growing the specialty roasting side but at this stage it will only be five days a week.”
The roaster they brought with them from the old café is an electric roaster that can roast two kilograms of beans at a time but when they did the fitout they included capacity to increase the size of the roaster as the bean sales for both home use and wholesale grows.
At the moment Guy is focusing on one blend, using beans from fresh, seasonal crops that come from Ethiopia, Columbia and Brazil; if you are a proper coffee enthusiast you may notice subtle changes in the flavour of the blend, “we want to give people the best coffee taste experience we can, even if that means we need to change the blend a little, we use the freshest beans we can source.
“We could buy the cheapest green beans we can find but we end up trying to purchase more expensive options, we want it to be both good and a flavour blend people can rely on.
“We can spend a lot of time toying with various roasts and blends but at the end of the day if you make a coffee it has to taste good.”
You can also buy freshly roasted coffee, either as beans or ground, to use at home, “our baristas are just as passionate as me when it comes to coffee and making people happy so when people come in with questions we love talking about coffee and the best options for them depending on how they are making it at home.”
When it came to setting up the café side of Society Guy and Louise decided that if they were going to do it then it had to be done as well as they could, “we knew that to be successful in this very competitive sector, to be the best we could be, then we had to invest in top quality equipment.
“We have the best machinery we could get, top-of-the-line kitchen equipment, a great roaster, a great grinder, a great coffee machine and most importantly, great systems so no matter who makes the coffee it will be the same every time.”
As the chef Louise is in charge of the kitchen and she told me the biggest thing they have done is to have a simplified menu, “rather than having a large food cabinet and two page menu we have simplified everything, we’re not doing catering, we have fewer choices in the cabinet but we are trying to make the food more refined, it also fits with us not being too big as a business but focusing on quality.”
She also has some ideas for the future, they make all of their own bread and customers have been asking if they can buy it so they are likely to add sales of handcrafted, artisan breads to the business, but is something they will grow into rather than trying to do everything right now.
As well as food Louise is taking advantage of having Raeward Fresh across the road, “we have a fresh juice machine and have a selection from Raeward’s so people can make up their own juice blend if they want to.”
There is also a takeaway window at Society so you can “phone up and order, pay pass it and go without having to come inside if you are in a hurry.”
One little extra at Society is free sparkling water, Guy and Louise set up an under-bench system that allows them to pour chilled sparkling water straight from the tap.
Guy told me they are looking to grow the brand “which will let us do more, including small batches of ultra-premium coffee, treating it like a fine wine where people will pay more for a special experience.
“We had the confidence to open this because we had a reputation for making great coffee and being beside the Caltex Service station is perfect, we get lots of profile from people driving in and even though they have their own coffee we are in different market, they are more convenience food while we are a café.”
So if you are looking for Guy, the world class barista, you will find him with his chef and colleague Louise at Society Coffee Roasters. Not only are they, making great food and coffee but the setting is delightful with a great outdoor area.