We all have our favourite coffee shop and many of us have even romaticised at some point about the idea of running one of our own. We chatted to Leanka Petrella, who together with her husband Claudio, took over the reigns of one of Cape Town’s dearest coffee spots, Table 13, about what its like and what it takes to run your own coffee shop. We also chatted to king of the coffee machine, Peter Sheleni, about what to expect when becoming a Barista.
Arriving at the Table…
Leanka admits that she has always been around food. Her family’s bakery in Bloemfontein where she grew up provided her with her first taste of ‘coffee shop’ life. Following her schooling she pursued a career in Hospitality Management and after a number of years had successfully climbed the ladder and was one step away from a position as General Manager. It was with the arrival of her daughter that Leanka found herself reconsidering her current career. She’d always wanted her own ‘little thing’ and she decided the time had come to take the plunge. It was while working a late shift, having a bit of time on her hands, that Leanka began searching online for restaurants for sale. Living in Durban at the time, the couple flew to Cape Town to view a shortlist of potentials. Table 13 wasn’t their first stop but on arrival it took a matter of minutes before Leanka was love-struck. They made an offer and on the 1st of February 2015 they were handed the keys.
Setting the Table…
One piece of advice that Leanka suggests for anyone wanting to buy in and take over the reigns of a coffee shop or restaurant is to do thorough research and a proper analysis of things like the equipment, service records and fixed assets.
When it comes to success, Leanka regards ‘passion and involvement’ as essential ingredients. “You need to be prepared to be hands-on. You definitely work harder when it’s your own business. You are constantly at work and are always thinking about how you can improve. It also takes time. Expect it to be three or so years before you see the rewards.”
One of the most difficult processes Leanka faced was winning the trust of her customers in the area. This is something she admits takes time and effort but going on the fact that the majority of Table 13 patrons today are regular customers proves that her patience and effort has paid off.
Leanka adds that keeping eyes wide open for opportunities and the ability to adapt are crucial in the success of your coffee shop. A prime example of this was when a nearby take-away coffee competitor closed down. Thinking quick, they made a sign and placed it outside the space directing people to Table 13 for their coffee fix. They also adapted the menu to include tasty baked goods for take-away and revamped to make space for more tables.
And the cherry on top of it all? For Leanka the most rewarding thing about running her own coffee shop is the opportunity to make people happy. For her it is all about the people; if they are satisfied and happy, then she is too.
On the coffee front…
Reflecting on the first time he first saw a barista in action, Peter says ‘My wish was to hold the portafilter!’ His journey with coffee didn’t begin behind the coffee machine but rather in the scullery. Working for a national coffee chain he made his was way from the scullery to working in the bakery section. With a lot of hard work and determination he made his way to the coffee machine and his portafilter. Over the past 7 years he has worked at a number of different coffee shops, completing barista courses offered internally by many of those companies.
What is it like to work as a barista? Peter says you can expect to work early mornings and to be on your feet for the better part of the day. He says that knowing your machine and your equipment like the back of your hand is important if you want to be able to make a great cup of coffee. One can do a two-week Barista course where you’ll be shown the basics but it takes time and a lot of practice to be able to consistently produce a great cup. Peter said it took him about 8 months to refine his skills. Being able to multitask and work under pressure are good virtues to have if you’re looking to become a barista, explains Peter. In ‘coffee rush hour’ you have to work quickly and you can’t make mistakes but although mistakes are a part of learning and training, Peter says that the most important thing is to never give up.
Peter refers to his space behind and around the coffee machine as ‘his office’ and when he’s in action you can see that this is someone who really loves his job. For him, the most rewarding part of being a barista is when his customers arrive and as he explains ‘knowing that I am the one who is making their coffee.’ What he enjoys most about his job is creating latte art and the challenge that comes with constantly improving this skill.