The Kookaburra's New Roasting Roost
Spencer Hooker, raised between Southeast Alaska and Australia, met Megan Vidal during their college days at the University of Colorado. Born and raised in Colorado, Megan was a licensed finance professional before embarking on the Kookaburra journey with Spencer. They both enjoy travel, which is how they landed in St. Augustine. What kept them here was the sense of community, which immediately appealed to them, and their commitment to creating a thriving coffee culture in Northeast Florida.
Tell us about the evolution of Kookaburra and how you came to have 4 coffee shops in a very short time.
We opened The Kookaburra on July 1, 2012. We quit our corporate jobs and moved to town, bought used equipment and were lucky enough to find Bold Bean Coffee Roasters in Jacksonville to purchase our beans from. We decided to just go for it. At that time the town was still recovering from the economic downturn and there weren't any true third wave shops doing coffee the way we felt it should be done. Spencer is a dual Aussie and American citizen and Australia has a robust and progressive coffee culture. We wanted to channel that and also do something different. We worked our little shop for 8 months by ourselves and slowly built the business. After two years we knew we needed a larger location outside of downtown and wanted to bake our own pastries and pies. Our good friend Clay Nettles of Nettles Fine Jewelry steered us towards the Seabridge Square Plaza on US 1 and SR 312. It had a full commercial kitchen, tons of parking and convenient access. That spot worked out better than we expected, and we soon looked for other spots.
We had always lamented that there was no coffee on the beach since we love catching the sunrise on the beach. Within the span of a week both a customer and Jen from Juniper Market (awesome place!) told us about a small cafe that was selling. We jumped at the opportunity and it was busy immediately. We didn't know what to expect so it was a pleasant surprise. We outgrew the spot quickly and six months later we moved to our current home at A1A and 3rd street. Not long afterwards we were told about an awesome warehouse space called Shipyard; we were already planning to get into roasting and looking for the right spot. We saw the space and loved it, and now we have 3 retail shops and a Roastery with an espresso bar. We celebrate 5 years in business on July 1st.
What challenges or surprises have you encountered that you did not expect?
A surprise for us has been how quickly the St. Augustine community has embraced and supported us. The local response has been incredible and deeply gratifying. The people who live and work in (and visit) St. Augustine are truly amazing. We grew fast and although we are always ready to take on new opportunities we have had to deal with the operational growing pains as a result. We've been very fortunate in that we've had some great people to lean on. We couldn't have gotten to where we are today without the help of the very talented employees we've brought on.
What drove the decision to roast your own coffee? What training did you need to prepare for roasting coffee?
Roasting our own coffee provides us with a much higher degree of control over the products we serve. We've had a phenomenal business relationship with Bold!Bean, but as The Kookaburra continues to evolve and grow it's important for us to develop our own brand. We've approached coffee roasting just as we've approached everything else; we've completely immersed ourselves in the science and art of the craft. We train and learn continuously, the science of coffee is a bottomless cup!
Is roasting coffee an art or a science?
Both. Coffee chemistry is complex, and controlling variables and replicating results is the daily objective. The artistry in roasting is teasing out the bean profile while minimizing the impact of the roast. Each bean responds differently. Through sight, smell and sound we develop a feel for when to add heat, reduce heat and halt the roasting process.
How did the partnership with Crave come to pass? Any other partnerships in the works?
We met Andres and Renee when they still worked at Casa Monica and Spencer and I worked our shop downtown. When they first opened Crave in the Rembrandt parking lot, we were frequent customers. As our friendship and businesses developed, we talked about doing some sort of partnership. When we moved to our current beach spot we had a full kitchen available and we pitched the idea to them. They were stoked! We love collaborating with like-minded local businesses. We currently collaborate with Old Coast Ales for a coffee brown ale. We are working on a collaboration with Cultivate Tea and Spice and we were the first people in town to carry Local Booch Kombucha. We have talked to the St. Augustine Distillery about collaborating and have chatted with The Hyppo about trying to do something together. There are so many creative people and great businesses in town it's hard not to be inspired by the cool things they are doing.
What opportunities do you see for food entrepreneurs that could enhance the local food system and community?
Both quality and service have to be there. We still have places that pop up who think they can get by on one or the other (or neither) since we are a tourist town. It absolutely matters. We have watched a lot of places come and go as a result. Also, be unique. There's a ton of opportunity for fun cuisines and unique offerings in St. Augustine!
What plans are on the horizon for Kookaburra and your business?
We're going to continue to push forward and seize opportunities as they arise. We're excited with the direction we've been moving and will continue to improve our products, service, and brand.
Ready to try an Aussie pie or a cup of the Kookaburra's new freshly roasted coffee? Visit one of their 4 locations in St. Augustine: www.kookaburrashop.com