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Meet the Cafe Owners: Keeping Up With Di

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14 February 2017

Rachel Healy

From cooking in Turkey and Greece, to owning not one but three Wellington cafes. We asked Di Schollar about her life in in the trade and how she juggles it all…

How’s the summer been Di (or what there’s been of it)?
Busy. The cruise ships keep Kowhai, my café at the top of the Cable Car, super busy. They’re big business, in fact trade doubles on cruise ship days. Kowhai is also a favourite for other tourists to Wellington and people going on the cable car.

Kowhai is in the old Skyline building, which used to be quite a Wellington institution…
It did! It used to be quite flash, hosting balls and weddings in the 80s. The politicians also used to have meetings and parties there.

You’ve owned The Boat in Oriental Bay for six and a half years, how did that venture come about?
I was General Manager of Parade Café, formerly over the road on Oriental Bay, for eight years and later took over the lease for a further two years. So I am very attached to the Bay and the people I have worked with. 

Your other venture is the recently opened espresso bar The Lobby in the Majestic Centre. How do you manage it all?
It can be stressful but I have good systems and excellent operational managers. Kowhai and The Lobby both feed off the Boat, quite literally, the food for both is prepared here at The Boat. The Boat is the complicated one; it’s challenging logistically and operationally to run a business on a boat, especially one on two levels!

How did you get started in hospitality?
I’ve been in the business my entire adult life. I started cooking as soon as I left school; did a cordon bleu course when the school was in Auckland, then went overseas cooking in the UK, Turkey, Greece… travelling and working. I came home and did the circuit of tourist spots like Russell and Taupo before doing a business studies course and opening a venture in the old James Smith Food Court in Wellington.

Is it hard to find a good barista?
Yes it really is, a lot of the best baristas move to Australia because they get paid more. Lately we’ve been getting young international tourists with great coffee skills though. I currently have a very talented guy from Belgium working for us.  People have huge expectations of baristas and sometimes are not realistic about the time it takes to get their coffee. I sometimes wonder if expectations are not keeping up with the creativity and talents of a good barista; latte arts are a given but they do take time.

What do you like about Emporio Coffee?
They’re old-school; they have integrity. It’s a classic brand. Emporio has also been extremely supportive of me and my businesses.  It really helps that Miriam and Eric were café owners themselves so they understand all the challenges.

Any advice for someone wanting to start a café today?
As well as the obvious around work ethic, my advice would be that business experience is key! You have to focus on the financial side and marketing. Also, make sure you get into a business as cheaply as you can. You can usually get in for a quarter of what you think you can—at auctions or the like. It’s important to keep that initial investment as low as possible because there are just so many expenses that come later. 

Image: Kowhai Cafe at the top of the Cable Car.