For some, coffee is so much more than a morning heart-starter. For Sam Gabrielian, Director of Gabriel Coffee in Sydney, it has become his life’s mission to master the perfect drop. Sam started as a barista and cafe owner in 2001, running the cafe for four-and-a-half years before judging coffee competitions around Australia and competing as a barista.
He inevitably developed an interest in roasting coffee so he learned how it was done, then started a roasting company. Insatiable? Probably, he agrees. His quest took him around the world to understand the variations and permutations of coffee making in different cultures, and bringing the best of them home to Australia.
“I travelled the world for nine months to study espresso coffee and see what the trends were,” Sam recalls. “I went to 77 towns in Italy, cafe hopping nonstop. I’d try coffees at every bar and cafe to see the difference between northern, southern and central Italy. Why were they roasting at different degrees? Why is Italy’s espresso far superior to the rest of the world?
“I returned to Australia and kicked off Gabriel Coffee. Then I started roasting and, within a couple of years, we won best espresso coffee in Australia at The Golden Bean.”
Potential customers wanted to use recognised mainstream coffee brands, so selling an unknown brand and a new service was a daunting and time-consuming process. But it was the combination of quality and customer service unavailable elsewhere that won through. “I’ve cultivated long-lasting relationships with my customers,” Sam says.
We want more people to drink our coffee and we want to reach out to more people.
“Some have been with me since day one. Building strong sustainable relationships is a value of mine. Engaging my customers, staff and co-workers through honest interactions – this is a priority for me.”
Gabriel Coffee was, like many other companies, struck by COVID-19, as cafes and restaurants closed or reduced their operations. It was a body blow for the business.
“Sure, there were moments of uncertainty and fear. I had many sleepless nights. The understanding and support of the team, who swiftly adapted, compromising by reducing their hours and offering their time, was what got us through the dark times,” Sam says.
“Trade suffered in the city and North Sydney, where inevitable closures took place. Fortunately trade in the suburban cafes kept us going, whilst coffee takeaway opportunities kept us in business.”
Stressed customers were given support through personal visits, discounts and ensuring they were informed on trends to keep their business busy with different offerings. Sam has taken a long-term view of the coffee scene in Australia and envisages steady growth in a market that loves its coffee.
He has invested heavily in new technology for the roasting process and, for the past six years, has used Australian-made recyclable cups. He’s also involved in training his staff, and research and development for coffee blends and coffee-making methods is a continual process.
Diversification at Gabriel Coffee continues, with the supply and servicing of coffee machines and grinders to customers looking for a complete service. “As well as providing beans, we source top-of-the-range coffee machines and grinders to supply to our customers. We employ a unique system that counts the amount of coffee they go through per week,” he says.
“It subtracts from the amount in the database so we can monitor when their service is due. That way, we’re keeping on top of the system, and ensuring the regular servicing of their equipment.
“We have a team order app to audit our cafe customers to ensure quality is up to standards, that wastage is kept to a minimum and that their equipment is well maintained. That’s been a major advantage, because it means we don’t have any machines down,” he explains. The business grows organically, Sam says. After 15 years, it’s nearly all word of mouth. He calls it a slow growth plan because he doesn’t want growth spiralling too quickly.
“The reason we’re growing is because we enjoy what we do, we want more people to drink our coffee and we want to reach out to more people,” he shares.
“It’s not a business model focused solely on profit and revenue. If that were the intention, we’d be heavily saturated. But that’s not why I got into the game. I wanted so deeply to develop the perfect drop. And whilst on the journey, I hoped to cultivate long-lasting connections, contribute to the culture of coffee to which I owed so much, and to have fun in the process.”
Sam is very hands-on, working on the warehouse floor, roasting and auditing. He also spends time as a “secret shopper”, visiting new accounts on weekends with his son, and trying the coffee and breakfast on offer.
He reports back to his team, so they can do training, if necessary, or to congratulate them on a job well done. With a small team of 14, each team member knows what needs to be done, and they do it well, he avows. “I’ve got versatile staff. It’s a professional and relaxed environment, with no micromanagement,” Sam says.
“It’s about how we function together as a team and how passionate we all are about coffee and our profession. I give people the opportunity to develop into whatever role they want by providing the best tools and equipment and the knowledge to be very good at their job. It gives them the confidence to grow.”
Proudly supported by: