I went to Brisbane (BNE) for a quick business trip. I managed to squeeze in some shopping to buy extremely expensive jeans and a shirt from one of my favourite clothing stores: SABA. This time around, I bought clothes at full, new season style prices for the Southern Summer. The last time that I did a quick turn in Australia it was Autumn there, with Summer styles on sale which worked out perfectly for myself in Tokyo during Spring, anticipating Summer. And now I am going yet again, hoping to find some Winter season sales for my Northern Winter, Australia’s Southern Summer.
The staff who had helped me to get my Smart Casual attire at the slimmest, nearly constricting sizes chatted me up, perhaps for an upsell, or due to curiosity for my nondescript accent-less speech that stands out Down Under. I mentioned that I was going to get a cup of coffee and he said that his coffee-fiend friend recommended a particular shop. Being a flaneur (autocorrect put flamethrower, had to mention), I took him up on the recommendation.
It was a good coffee in general, better than the average cup of Starbucks and most other lackluster coffee chains in Tokyo. It was just a couple of young looking millennials brewing fine cups at their coffee cart on the street.
As I approached to get a short long black (all coffee order names in Australia blow your mind, like the reversed seasons), the barista said that it was ‘happy hour.’ Pick heads or tails and if I win the coin flip then I get a free cup of coffee. I chose tails. No dice. It was a boost of excitement followed by the regular expectation of payment. How can these 2 guys make money at the coffee cart when there is a 50% chance of earning nothing on each cup?!
Well, this concept blows apart any kind of corporate money-making mechanism for margins that I know of. While sitting and browsing a local newspaper’s headlines, on actual paper, many other apparent regulars started lining up at this shop. And they were softly discussing previous wins and losses in anticipation of today’s chance. The coffee happy hour coin flip promotion was catching speed by word of mouth and was growing a regular customer base.
My top priorities for coffee are the coffee quality itself, price, and then the cafe’s atmosphere as a third priority. I want a mug of freshly brewed coffee where I can see the steam. At the end of the day, I would end up searching for the best cup of coffee in Brisbane, and a better cafe atmosphere, than the coin flip opportunity. It was a thought-provoking gimmick.
The taxi driver was one of the more interesting parts of my journey. After a few quick questions on my bio, answered in my usual vagueness, the driver offered much about his life. This worked out well for me as I don’t like to talk about myself much (which makes writing these mini-biography blog posts so difficult). Let’s call him Ben. Ben had started a cafe in Brisbane. His cafe had coffee, cake, breakfast, etc. But he must have had some disagreements with the chef because Ben had complained that the chef was trying to make some of the business decisions, perhaps around the menu or the prices, I don’t know. In essence, the chef was trying to exert his power over the business owner, being a crucial component of the business. So Ben decides to go to cooking school to learn how to cook, to replace his know-it-all chef. That was a shocking, game-changing decision that I wasn’t expecting. He also mentioned that for the barista interview, he simply asked the potential barista to make him a cup of coffee. Ben’s taste test was the interview. How easy is that!?
He had touched base with me during his nostalgia about where I was from, more so to keep his conversation going I guess. I had mentioned a few of the different fish that I used to catch in my home country, to which he proceeded to describe to me, in detail, of how to cook each of those kinds of fish. I should have brought my notepad. Then again, I haven’t fished those fish for perhaps 17 years or more.
In my childhood, I had enjoyed fishing the easiest possible fish and shellfish that could be caught. The easiest was capelin. The only trouble was timing it right as they only roll on certain beaches for a few days or so during the summer. But at those times, you can just drag a net, as they fill the beach. You could even pick them up with your hands as they flip flop on the beach. The next easiest would be Atlantic Cod fish. You just have to have a boat, perhaps a fish-finding device, and a cod jigger. Then you go out and just jig for cod. After that, it was trout. Trout unfortunately require more work. We generally went out in canoe with fishing rods, worms that we had caught the night before in the backyard, and then a lot of patience. We would canoe and fish at the optimal mosquito time: dusk. It could have been dawn, but that would take more effort. And then finally, maybe once per year, we would go out to special places for mussels; caught with a rake and a net, or a rake-net combo. After growing up, we went to back to these same places that we used to go with full rented wet-suits, fins, snorkels and masks. This was a much more efficient method to get mussels compared to using a rake from a boat on moving water. We could just pull the mussels out of the ocean with our hands in complete comfort, despite the rainy day. Rain doesn’t matter when you are underwater! During this trip I added the newest addition to my fishing repertoire which was collecting scallops. While collecting mussels, I happened to spot individual scallops resting at the bottom of the ocean, but sitting about 5-10 meters deep. No problem. We had a great feast of mussels and scallops boiled right on the beach in salt water.
But during high school, I recall several friends talking about salmon fishing. I love salmon, don’t get me wrong, but this sounded like a terrible hobby. You had to get a salmon license, a special fishing rod, go to a mosquito-infested river, and then fish for hours to get one, or none. From their stories, you had to catch and do battle with the fish. If you reeled it in too quickly and directly, your fish line would break and the fish would get away (surely there are stronger fishing lines these days?!). Therefore, they had to battle the fish, up and down the river for 45 minutes or so before the fish got tired and gave in. All the while, the human fisherman is being eaten by mosquitoes. This was not for me.
Nowadays, I like the simplicity of buying fresh sushi-fish in the Japanese grocery stores, a bit of seaweed, soy sauce, wasabi, and then some partner-made vinegar rice. This has to be one of the easiest meals to prepare in Japan.
Getting back to the story, Ben went on in detail about his cafe business; about the margins on literal pieces of cake, coffee, breakfast, on and on. He even described in detail his weekly expenses and take home profits. I believe that it was 10,000 AUD per week in profit. The numbers sounded good anyway, and he seemed to be making some nice coin. Again, I should have brought my notepad.
The story kind of went to silence after 20 minutes or so. I had to ask, “what happened to your cafe?” Well, it turned out that he worked his ass off for those cafe years and didn’t spend enough time with his wife. They seemed to drift apart, got a divorce, and he sold the cafe to divide it with her in his divorce settlement. Now he is in his fifties and just wants to relax and drive the taxi.