Brisbane entrepreneur’s $3m ‘coffee commune’
BRISBANE coffee baron Phil Di Bella plans to spend more than $3 million on a groundbreaking new caffeine-focused enterprise.
No, he's not launching another coffee brand like the self-named business he sold to embattled Gold Coast outfit Retail Food Group six years ago for $47 million.
Rather, he's aiming to develop something called "The Coffee Commune" on the site of his former Di Bella Coffee national headquarters in Bowen Hills, which RFG began evacuating last week ahead of a planned (and frankly, disappointing) relocation to Sydney.
When it opens early next year on Di Bella's four adjacent properties on Abbotsford Road, the venue will operate as a membership-based business for the likes of suppliers, roasters, baristas and venue owners. Education and networking will be part of the mix and, of course, the café will remain on site.
"I'm building a first of its kind facility to bring the coffee community together to collaborate,'' Di Bella told City Beat yesterday about a scheme that's been on his mind for the past three years.
"It will be a place to buy raw coffee and manufacture your own coffee.
"It's a bit like a coffee chamber of commerce. It's never been done before and will obviously be much-needed post this coronavirus. It's going to be something a lot of people will need.''
Di Bella has leased the properties to RFG since he sold the business to them in 2014.
But his subsequent consulting work for the retail group came to an acrimonious end late last year following clashes with RFG boss Peter George. The two camps even came close to waging war in court.
So you might say the timing of RFG's decision to up stumps and relocate one of Australia's biggest roasters and distributors of prime coffee down south is rather intriguing.
It's also raised quite a few eyebrows in the hospitality sector.
Dumpsters outside the Di Bella Coffee offices last week were filled with loads of equipment stripped out of the premises, including what appeared to be perfectly good roasters that we understand sell for anywhere between $50,000 and $150,000 a piece.
Why wouldn't cash-strapped RFG relocate or sell all this gear?
We had hoped to find out but neither George, nor a company spin doctor, responded yesterday to requests for comment, which included calls and a list of emailed questions.
What's clear is that, like plenty of businesses, RFG has been hit hard by the virus crisis and it is now busy consolidating many parts of its empire in a desperate bid to slash costs. Among its other brands are Gloria Jean's, Donut King, Michel's Patisserie, Crust Pizza and Brumby's bakeries.
The company suffered an eye-watering $149 million net loss in the 2018-19 financial year and last month withdrew its profit guidance for the current financial year.
Meanwhile, we hear that cafés and other Di Bella clients have already vented their frustration with the changes afoot. Several blended product lines have been dropped and RFG is no longer selling Di Bella ground coffee, prompting some customers to walk away.
One of Brisbane's top hospitality industry consultants has wasted no time downloading the government's COVIDSafe app-and it's not just because he wants to avoid the dreaded disease.
Russell Steele, who runs RSA Liquor Professionals, thinks the app now on nearly 2.5 million phones across Australia is a vital tool to unlock the nation's shuttered drinking and dining establishments.
"Everyone will have their view on privacy and other issues around this App and all are entitled to them,'' Steele noted on Facebook this week.
"For what it's worth my view is THIS is the single quickest way they will allow hospitality and events to re-open and that's why it's on my phone already!"
Originally published as Brisbane entrepreneur's $3m 'coffee commune'