The first person I ever had to fire was a friend of mine. I’d gotten them the job in the first place, and they were really good at it, and their coffee was probably better than mine. The customers definitely liked them more than they liked me, but the owners, it seemed, did not.
They saw their rapport with the customers as idle chatting, and I think they also saw their social life as a distraction from the job. Whatever their reasons, one day I was called into the office, and told to swing the axe. I was terrified.
I’d never fired anybody before, let alone a friend, so I had no idea how to go about it. In the end, I called them into the office, and tried to do it as professionally as possible (like I’d seen on TV), and it was 2 minutes of absolute torture that felt like an hour.
Something inside of me changed that day, a certain innocence was lost, and from then on I chose to conduct the multiple firings I was forced to do with a kind of band aid method. Prepare their full pay in an envelope, tell them they were done, hand it to them and then walk away before they had a chance to react, then hide in the office until they left.
Looking back, it felt more like a lazy espionage scene than an efficient method of dismissal, but at least it cut down on the awkwardness. And where once I was a warm, friendly guy, I was now getting colder by the week.
“This was no way to live.”
I couldn’t keep turning up to work, wondering if I was going to have to be the bad guy again, or worse, if my own time was up.
And so I used those feelings to drive me into opening my own place, because I figured that I couldn’t get suddenly fired if I was the boss.
And the local scene was beginning to blossom beautifully. People who’d worked at institutions that had begun to define a new era of Sydney hospitality had started to open places of their own. These were venues that were owned and run by people who’d known nothing else in their working lives but hospo, and they were doing well. An entire new wave of workers who’d decided that it was time to be their own boss, and I wanted to be one of them. And hey, how hard could running your own business really be?
Hard, guys. Real hard.
First thing’s first, I had to quit my current job, not only for my mental well-being, but also to free up some much needed planning time. I handed in my notice, and in reward for my services I was completely shunned for the entirety of my final week by the owners. It was Christmas week. My decision was becoming more and more vindicated by the day, as I spun the proverbial plates, with no help from above. Handing those keys back is a high I’ve been chasing ever since.
I landed a part-time gig making coffee in a mate’s cafe (which obviously turned into running the front of house after a couple of months, something I’d accepted long before it happened), and I began to plan a place of my own.
Planning is tedious, and mind numbing, and required a set of skills that were so far out of my repertoire they were in a separate time zone.
How was a guy who’d not paid tax in years supposed to navigate the ATO’s red tape? Or register for an ABN, and an ACN (I’ll be honest, I still don’t really know the difference between these two), register for GST, and a business name, all before I knew where my place would even be?
The idea of your favourite barista opening up their own place is great and all, but we’re not smart enough to know all of this (at least I’m not), and most of us are shocked that it takes more than putting a rented Linea into an empty shop, and opening the doors.
I needed help, so I turned to my bookkeeper, who made sure I covered all of the legal stuff, my current boss, who made sure I didn’t get fleeced by sleazy salespeople, and my coffee supplier, who banged his head against a wall whenever we talked about machinery, so that he didn’t have to bang mine.
But I still didn’t have a space.
My initial spot was actually going to be inside a brewery. This was quickly shot down by the local council (my liver thanks you), as my customers would be forced to dodge forklifts to get in the door, and rowdy drunkards (both outside of the cafe, and most likely behind the counter) to get their morning fix.
“…there was an issue with the bathroom, the issue being that it didn’t exist.”
Thankfully, a perfect spot became available mere days later.
It was a well-known space, away from the beaten track, but not too far, and with enough locals around it to make it work. It was on a major bus route, close to a hospital, and (most importantly) walking distance from my house.
But it wasn’t in good shape. The roof (and subsequently the ceilings) had severe hail damage. The floors bounced when you walked on them (which I still think is more fun than a boring, constantly level floor), and there was an issue with the bathroom, the issue being that it didn’t exist.
This pushed back my opening date by a few months, as I wrestled with the dodgiest landlord in history to get the place ready for me to fit it out.
But eventually, I said goodbye to my bouncy floors, and the impromptu skylights, and said hello to sturdy footing, a new ceiling, and even a bathroom! With an opening day set, I’d worked my last shift for somebody that wasn’t myself, and gave myself a week to fit the place out.
We didn’t open when we wanted to.
The dodgy landlord had cheaped out on the wiring, and now my coffee machine was tripping the power every time we switched it on.
So, after rolling my eyes out the back of my head listening to the landlord blame a brand new coffee machine, instead of his non-existent electrical skills, I called in a favour from an electrician friend of mine to save the day. He quickly spotted the cross wiring in my circuitboard, and quickly gave the landlord a lesson in electrical safety.
I was ready to open.
Just kidding, I was nowhere near ready, but I opened anyway!
My kitchen was still in boxes, and I was still waiting for the all-important council approval to come through, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I didn’t even have a POS (but if I did, it would be Lightspeed, because it’s the best. Are we cool? Am I still employed?) And so, we opened our doors to our adoring public, and they accepted us, just as we were, and we all lived happily ever after.
Just kidding again.
There’s nothing quite like spending an entire year planning your perfect cafe, and then having every decision picked apart by a stay-at-home mum who drinks a soy latte with a sugar. One day I hope to have such confidence in my opinions. And nothing compares to the wrath of decaf drinkers when you don’t offer their precious placebo (it’s not coffee, don’t try to convince me, many have tried, and all have failed). If looks could kill, I’d be Jon Snow at the end of season 5 #forthewatch.
And the workload.
I think I spent every minute of my life in that cafe for the first 6 months of operation. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a lie, but even when I did get the chance to leave, there was a mountain of paperwork waiting for me at home. The bills don’t stop, my friends, no matter how much you ignore them. And the pile only gets less appealing after your 30th open ‘til close shift in a row, which was news to me.
Add to that a finance-based anxiety rooted in our relatively meagre takings (I’d never made any projections, or a business plan, or any research of any type), and a mate who I’d promised a full-time job, costing me almost as much as I was bringing in each week.
But hey, at least nobody could force me to fire him.