Are Melbourne's baristas the best in the world? Nick Stone certainly thinks so, and he's in town this week hoping to recruit some crack locals to work at his chain of Melbourne-style cafes in New York, Bluestone Lane.
"I do think that Melbourne is the Silicon Valley of coffee culture," says Stone. "Silicon Valley recruits the best engineers. We want to recruit the best baristas."
Stone, a former investment banker and one-time AFL player, moved to New York in 2010. He opened the first Bluestone Lane – a hole-in-the-wall espresso bar – in the atrium of the Meredith building in midtown Manhattan in 2013.
Since then he has launched six other cafes that bring the full Melbourne experience to New Yorkers: avocado smash, corn fritters, table service – unusual in American cafes – and real baristas pulling great flat whites.
And it turns out it's not just New Yorkers who have fallen in love with our approach. The chain recently expanded to Philadelphia, and Stone has plans to open 10 more cafes in 2016.
Stone will be offering local baristas a chance to audition for a job in New York next weekend at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds.
"The main thing is for people to ... talk about the cafes they've worked in," Stone says. "The biggest drivers are personality and skill set. We're looking for people who have drive and pride in their work."
Stone turned the concept of a Melbourne-style cafe into a thing in New York:
"Everything we do is modelled around providing an authentic Melbourne cafe experience. It's more than just coffee, it's about a great healthy food offering, personable and engaging service, creating an environment where customers can escape. Most importantly, we are focused on developing intangible connections like knowing our customers' names, orders and predicting whether they want to engage and chat or not.
"These are the secrets of the immersive Melbourne cafe experience," says Stone.B
That and the product. Bluestone Lane cafes serve Niccolo coffee – roasted in Melbourne and flown to New York each week – and other familiar Melbourne brands such as Prana Chai and Matcha Maiden teas.
"We have an unlimited pipeline of opportunities to open cafes in America," says Stone. "The only restriction is the people we can recruit."
"Melbourne cafe staff really understand the need for engagement focused on relationship building rather than the typical American 'transactional' focus," he says. "They intuitively understand what a premium cafe experience is and appreciate it's not just about coffee."
Melbourne International Coffee Expo, March 17–19, Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, see internationalcoffeeexpo.com