Little Chloe, An Interview

1810 Malvern Road
Malvern East, VIC 3145
03 9699 4054

If a little birdie hasn’t told you yet, there’s a new café in Malvern East. But I’ve decided to take a different angle with this post. Because I know one of the owners, Iggy, I thought it might be more interesting if I asked him a bunch of nosy questions about how it’s like opening up a cafe in Melbourne. Hope you enjoy this interview about the ins and outs of owning and running a brunch business.

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Little Chloe is a cute and whimsical sounding name. How did you come up with it?

I just came up with it because (my business partner) Jimmy’s daughter was born on the same day that we signed the contract for the venue. It’s amazing how coming up with a name changed all of our original concept and made it a lot better.

In fact, the design of the place came with the name. The coffee bar represents the father, the middle section represents the mother (garden theme / earthy tones), and the last section with “the giving tree” wallpaper represents the daughter (Chloe). Hence, in the end, the whole place represents the family.

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Is this your first venture into the brunch industry?

Yes and no.

This is the first time where I’ve set up a brunch business from scratch / nada / nothing. But it isn’t my first time in the industry. I’d joined a brunch business with other business partners previously and moved on from there.

And what did you learn from your previous ventures that helped make the setting up of Little Chloe easier?

Wow… I don’t even know where to start! There were so many things that I picked up along the way before starting Little Chloe, and it wasn’t easy. But choosing the right business partner was one of the most important decisions. It should be someone you can trust and believe in. Someone who cares as much as you, if not more.

Having good produce really helps too, as all you have to do is allow the produce to shine without much effort. This is why we’re really appreciative and grateful to everyone that has agreed to be our supplier.

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What was the greatest challenge you faced with the opening of Little Chloe?

The greatest challenge we faced was the building itself. Because it’s a brand new building, we had to connect practically everything ourselves (except for the water), and the most gruelling of all was the electricity. Mind you, Telstra hasn’t connected us yet even now, despite the fact that we had applied for it 4 months ago.

Is it difficult starting up a small cafe compared to Melbourne’s brunch giants (like St Ali North and Top Paddock), where they already have a crowd of loyal followers right from the start?

Yes and no again.

Yes, because there are no followers, so goodwill and reputation needs to be developed from scratch. And no because we are the ones setting the expectations… under deliver vs over deliver.

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What was the feeling like on your first day of trading? Describe a highlight moment since.

We felt both nervous and excited at the same time on day one. Highlights since that day were those moments where we managed to pull through a busy service without a glitch (or just minor glitches), or when we managed to engage our customers and get them excited about filter coffees. We plan to slowly introduce a batch brewer from the end of April.

Little Chloe is also a roastery, tell us more about it.

We aim to roast our own beans to supply ourselves in the end, and hopefully to our locals too. We’ve already acquired the roaster and we’re now looking at a suitable space to store our beans properly and start roasting. As for our preferred bean profile, it really depends on the beans itself. We’re just trying to highlight what the bean has to offer and the best ways to bring its flavour out. Creating lighter roasts and then utilising the La Marzocco Strada coffee machine complements the whole process.

Keeping coffee quality consistent from day to day and cup to cup is important to us. That’s a matter of experience and following systems and procedures all the time. Nevertheless, there are endless variables that affects the quality of coffee. Consistency is definitely a constant challenge.

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I was pleasantly surprised to find traditional Chinese steamed buns juxtaposed with third wave coffees in a Melbourne brunch spot. How did the menu come about?

Lol… that menu was created because I had dinner at momofuku seiobo in Sydney and was fascinated by their steamed bun. So when my business partner and I were designing the menu, we aspired to keep it fun with a little twist. And while we were trying to create a balanced menu, I insisted the pork belly bun to be included, but modified to our version.

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From a brunchgoer’s perspective, all we see is smiling faces, good food, and good coffee… the experience is great! But what does it really take to actually run a cafe smoothly and keep customers happy?

Wow… I have to say, it takes effort from the whole team. Front of house, back of house… and the baristas. Having the right systems and training in place is extremely important, and do always lead by example.

Hospitality is a human business, and I always believe in building a strong team. Instead of having a high turn over of staff, I prefer staff retention and keeping everyone happy. That way, you get a happy strong team that can work together despite whatever challenges that may come our way.

And the key factor is passion. Hospitality is human business and it requires passion. If you’re in it for the money, forget about it. It’s about following your passion and making it possible while sharing it with everyone that comes through your doors.

Some customers may want to know where their tips are distributed. Care to let us know?

Tips are normally distributed at the end of the day amongst all staff (all… including the kitchen). Even if it’s in credit card slips, we just place the cash from the till into the tip jar to the same tip value from the credit cards.

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What’s your stance towards food bloggers taking pictures of your food and venue?

Food bloggers stance… you know exactly where I stand… *chuckle*

However, I have to say I’m fine with it, because it generally shows appreciation towards our efforts and products. Blogger behaviours that I don’t like? Unnecessarily bitchy feedback. Constructive feedback, however, is highly welcome. We’re happy to learn from our mistakes.

I’m not pointing at your cafe, but some brunchgoers find $18 pricey for a brunch dish, but happily fork out $26+ for lunch dishes at restaurants. What do you think about that?

It’s all about the produce that we use and the quality on the plate. Brunch items are just as expensive as lunch items in terms of cost. That’s what people don’t realise. However, it’s the psychology and the assumption that it is always acceptable to spend more for lunches and dinners. At the end of the day, what we want is a satisfying meal. And I can see how either brunch or lunch items can achieve that. Also, prices are determined based on the cost of goods. If it’s lower, it’s reflected in the menu as well (lower price).

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Any advice you got for people who’re thinking of starting out in Melbourne’s brunch industry?

Think twice. Don’t get into it for the money. Be in it because you’re passionate about it. Because you want a winning team.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt about cafe business entrepreneurship?

Ahahhaa.. How to have a work / life / and bank balance whilst surviving and enjoying what you do.

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