Specialty coffee at the Federal Store

Strandon, New Plymouth, NZ


What did you do before you opened Federal Store?

I’d been heavily involved in the coffee and hospitality industries, starting as a dishwasher in the mid 90’s with my brother at Back Stage café in Stratford. From there I created my own hospitality career, starting with a café, Zanzibar and working with my mum as a business partner, before opening another café, Ultralounge. That was followed by about 4 years in Wellington working for Havana coffee roasters as Factory / Operations Manager, before moving back to New Plymouth in 2012.

Why did you decide to open a coffee shop?

Initially I saw an opening to create a community hub, a place where people could meet and hang out. My vision was one of a very coastal, beachy themed environment, while at the same time creating a successful lifestyle and living.

The site was the original Zanzibar café, the bones were there still, but it just needed to be revamped and redesigned. In some ways my journey has gone full circle. I was able to bring together all the ideas that I’d collected while working in, and behind the café scenes in Auckland and Wellington, adding motivation, drive and inspiration. I believe it’s important to be true to what you are doing, it was something I could put my heart and soul into. The result – a 50s/60s style café with home baking, wholesome, good honest food, product and people. Working with the right people is huge, you need the right staff to drive and motivate the business.

Can you pinpoint a defining moment when the dream turned into reality? The point of no return?

We were about two hours from opening, with the newspaper coverings still up on the windows and yet the place was full of customers. I was telling customers the newspaper wasn’t part of the fit out. People were sitting at tables, wanting service and to order food as we polished the windows. The point of no return was when my chef had a heart attack on day one and I had to step into the kitchen to fill the gap!

Is the reality reflective of your early dreams?

Very much so. It’s everything I thought it would be and more. It really has blown me away with consistently strong results, and how it’s grown from where it was to where it is now. I’m absolutely stoked where it is.

We often hear about people’s mistakes in the early days. What did you get right from day one?

I really think we got it bang on… everything except the chef ’s heart attack! The baking, food, service and coffee was right from day one. And employing the right people that can hold a conversation and make people feel welcome, providing great service, was a key part of our success. I won’t say the whole formula was perfect, but everything was right at the right time. When we opened, people were hanging out for it, and after a repaint and a bit of hype we opened the doors after just a 3 ½ week turnaround. I thought to myself when we were about to open the doors that I’d never had a chance just sit down and take it all in, relax and soak up what we had created.

How did Ozone get involved?

Initially through a long term connection between myself and Karen and Jamie (Ozone Coffee Roasters’ co-founders), as well as being able to work with Paul and create a bespoke blend with a fantastic flavour. It’s important to me to keep supply chains localised. Being able to walk into the roastery and feel like I can talk and look at the product, taste it, smell it. It’s a nice feeling and a great relationship to be able to have, and that makes for a strong relationship in the future.

What are you going to be doing in 10 years?

I could stay still in Federal with my sleeves up and serving coffees, but in reality this is a stepping stone in life. I love the industry and realise as I’m getting older that it’s great to be able to support the back end as well, potentially look at supporting others but in a different capacity working as a consultant. Or, buying a Mercedes and setting up a limousine service!

Biggest challenge?

The best part is developing the concept, but the hardest part is working it and getting out of bed after 80 hour weeks. Getting people to understand the concept was also tough initially, but at the end of the day, the food, service and coffee was great and the concept has really shone.