We've Come A Long Way

May 2012

I had been searching for a space in Mornington to open a specialty coffee roastery for almost 18 months. At first I were thinking just of Main St hidden in an old weatherboard house or garage, but there just wasn't anything suitable, so I broadened my scope to include industrial Mornington. I received a text from Sarah Dingwall (our resident glass artist and owner of Commonfolk Studios) with an image that looked somewhat like this...

16 Progress Street was an old decrepit sandstone manufacturing factory. There was a thick layer of sandstone dust coating every single surface, and as far as amenities went there was a beaten up toilet and a hand sink... it was AMAZING!!! In hindsight I have no idea what I was thinking when I was signing the lease for this run down tin shed but I'm very glad I did. The first order of the day was the clean up the mess and create a blank canvas for us to begin work. The cleaning was arduous but in the end we had an open factory ready to be converted into a coffee roastery. 

We came up with the name Commonfolk after multiple round table sessions debating the pros and cons of various names. We liked Commonfolk because it encapsulated our philosophy and what we stood for - great coffee, art, and amazing spaces should be available to everybody. We wanted to create a 'common' space for all 'folk' to feel at home while still rocking their socks off with our product. 

Rough plans for the Commonfolk Studios -  Sarah Dingwall

Rough plans for the Commonfolk Studios - Sarah Dingwall

By January 2013 the old tin shed had undergone a massive transformation and Commonfolk Coffee Company was ready to commence trade. When we opened the doors on Australia Day 2013 we had 4 staff on the books and 4 bags of coffee in the roastery (and we were worried that this was too much). 

Our entire coffee supply on opening day

Our entire coffee supply on opening day

I remember thinking to myself there's no way anybody is going to come out to the industrial estate for a coffee, what was I thinking this is going to be a disaster! We opened the doors at 8am and the people started to trickle in.... and in.... and in, until we were pretty much at capacity and I had my wife (who wouldn't know a Picasso from a Piccolo Latte) running coffee and taking orders. I can't quite explain the combination of relief, exhaustion, and excitement that I felt that Saturday evening but I knew it meant that Commonfolk Coffee Company was on a trajectory that would take us somewhere very exciting.  

Fast forward three years and it's hard to imagine how we ever ran Commonfolk with only 4 people in total, or how those 4 bags of coffee seemed like a reasonable amount to have in stock! On Tuesday January 26th 2016 it will be our 3rd birthday and it would be great if customers who have followed us on our journey could come down and celebrate with us. 

Over the course of those three years we have seen over 60 locals gain employment with Commonfolk. Some of whom are still with us, and many who went on to pursue successful careers in other professions. We've even sent out baristas to some of Melbourne's most iconic coffee business's including Proud Mary, Seven Seeds, Code Black, and Stagger Lees! We're so proud of our staff and to be honest our team feels more like a family than a bunch of colleagues, and it has been an honour to work with every single one of them. 

We also established 'The Cup That Counts' a charity aimed at establishing a sustainable coffee industry in the developing world. Who would have thought, three years ago, that Commonfolk and its customers would have purchased multiple coffee farms in Uganda, actively employ full time Ugandan staff, and be in a position to roast and distribute the first specialty Ugandan coffee ever in Australia! 

Our farm on Mt Elgon just outside of Mbale in far east Uganda

Our farm on Mt Elgon just outside of Mbale in far east Uganda

We haven't just seen changes overseas, any of our regular customers could testify to the massive evolution of the cafe itself. When we first started trading we had a limited menu of toasties and not much else, these days we employ multiple chefs hell bent on offering the best cafe dining experience on the Mornington Peninsula. We've renovated, repainted, renovated some more, purchased a new roaster (three times the capacity of the original one), welcomed and farewelled multiple studio mates, grown our wholesale family to over 20 cafes, run markets, latte art competitions, witnessed staff compete in barista championships, and won awards for our coffee, food and service. It's amazing to think just how much we've grown in three years!

Of course one of the biggest undertakings was opening our second location, Merchant & Maker, in McCrae. The fact that we have the capacity to even think of opening up another space is testament to the commitment of our amazing staff, the support of our incredible customers, and the burgeoning coffee culture of the Mornington Peninsula. It's an exciting time to be involved in the industry. 

2016 is going to be a huge year for the Commonfolk family. Already my mind is flooded with ideas and concepts for bigger and better things. This year keep your eyes open for the initiation of a youth coffee training program called 'Give to Live', the evolution of the Commonfolk roastery including an internship program focused on developing the next generation of coffee professionals, and more cafes / restaurants serving Commonfolk Coffee than ever before. An enormous thank you to everyone who has ever been involved with Commonfolk on any level. Without your support we could never have hoped to be where we are now, and who knows maybe you still wouldn't be able to get a decent coffee in industrial Mornington ;)

Ready for a big 2016

Ready for a big 2016

BlogSam Keck