Stuff News Article: Emporio Coffee Open after Covid Lockdown
11 May 2020
Twenty years and one nationwide Covid-19 lockdown later, Emporio Coffee, one of the first roasteries in Wellington, is still family-owned and going strong. This article by Kate Green first appeared on Stuff 30 April, 2020
Eric and Miriam Heycoop launched the coffee roastery in 2000, as a young couple with two kids under three.
“We started off with a wee five kilo roaster at the bottom of Tory St, and we were the fourth roastery in Wellington,” Eric said.
Since then, they'd outgrown their Tory St premises and moved into their current shop on Abel Smith St in central Wellington, and became a household name in Wellington.
The business weathered a global financial crisis, 20 years of growing competition from coffee startups, and more recently, the coronavirus lockdown.
“Coffee is a four to five dollar spend,” Eric said, “And if you can do it really well, people will do that before anything else.”
They had operated throughout lockdown as a contactless delivery system, providing people with coffee beans and grinds throughout.
Their contactless takeaway coffee system was already a hit, opening on Tuesday with the transition to level 3.
Their espresso bar was “a real meeting place”.
“People come out of their buildings, and they like that couple of minutes walk. And they love the banter with the barista.”
People could either go on the regular app, text, or phone to place an order.
The baristas made the coffee and left it on the table for people to drop in and collect.
Already they’d had plenty of customers. “People are just so delighted to get a takeout coffee,” Miriam said.
“It’s lovely having the staff back, and music playing.”
They came from a food service background; a catering company which they sold when their son was born, and a downtown Wellington cafe before opening Emporio.
“Something that we underestimated was how difficult it was to build a brand. And so we were very much on our own. It was a lot of trial and error.”
Eric had been on the coffee machine in their cafe, but after they bought their first roaster they travelled to America for a big coffee conference, and enrolled in every course that might help them.
On their return, they got to work. “For weeks we just roasted, cupped, made coffee, evaluated, and we came up with our signature blend which hasn't really changed much in 20 years.”
They had one thing front of mind: “That people would want a second cup.”
And it had to be forgiving, so baristas everywhere could make consistently good coffee.
“We’re not the end user, compared to say a winemaker who puts the finished product into a beautiful bottle,” Eric said.
Last year they bought a state-of-the-art roaster, the Loring S35 Kestrel, which was efficient, low energy, and better for the planet.
“It burns all the smoke before it hits the environment,” Eric said.
The lockdown had provided an opportunity to keep learning, he said, but it hadn’t changed their ethos.
“We've never wanted to be massive. Like you always want to be a bit bigger, but we always want to be family owned. That's really important to us.”
Miriam said the focus was always on their customers, both individuals and businesses.
“We've got longevity, we've got a really excellent, tight team, we can really push forward and help our customers as much as we possibly can to sort of get people back on their feet.”
Neither saw the end of their involvement with Emporio anytime soon.
Eric owned a 1932 Ford hot rod, which could sometimes be seen outside the espresso bar, and an old MG race car he’d had for 30 years, but had no desire to spend more time away from Emporio.
“I’ve got no intentions of retiring quickly, that’s for sure. I love going to work,” Eric said.
Miriam agreed. “To be perfectly honest, I'm not really a slow down type,” she said. “We just really, really love our business, and we just really love being there, and being with our staff.”