THE COF­FEE GUY

Scout Magazine - - Eat... - Ken­ton Camp­bell

WE ALL LOVE A RAGS TO RICHES STORY IN­VOLV­ING LO­CALS. WHETHER IT’S THE HOME­LESS MAN FIND­ING A LOTTO TICKET OR THE STRUG­GLING WAIT­RESS WHO HAS THE OP­POR­TU­NITY OF A LIFE­TIME FALL RIGHT INTO HER LAP, THERE’S SOME­THING ABOUT STO­RIES OF UN­LIKELY SUC­CESS THAT FILL OUR HEARTS WITH HOPE AND MAKE OUR HAIRS STAND ON END.

This one in par­tic­u­lar starts with one guy, in a cart, push­ing his cof­fees on the streets of Seat­tle. And it ends with an em­pire of fran­chises across Aus­tralia. Sorry, not ‘ends’… more like ‘con­tin­ues’ – the Gold Coast's Ken­ton Camp­bell isn’t cash­ing in just yet.

You’d be hard-pressed to walk through a shop­ping cen­tre or drive along a main road with­out spot­ting the green and gold Zar­raffa’s logo stand­ing, true to their motto, "head and shoul­ders above the rest". Dreamed up by en­tre­pre­neur Ken­ton – an adop­tive-aussie orig­i­nally from Ore­gon, USA – the brand has cer­tainly out­grown its orig­i­nal Gold Coast lo­ca­tion at South­port. It now has stores in more than 70 lo­ca­tions Aus­tralia-wide.

Ken­ton showed an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit from a young age. At five, he started a bot­tle col­lec­tion agency, col­lect­ing and de­liv­er­ing all of the bot­tles from his neigh­bour­hood to the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket for cash. Then, af­ter a three- year stint in the US Navy and a few odd jobs, he started his own clean­ing busi­ness. Then, it was a job sell­ing ad­ver­tis­ing. And then… cof­fee.

“I started to take no­tice of how many peo­ple were drink­ing cof­fee around me,” Ken­ton says. “One month later, in 1993, I had my own cof­fee cart in Seat­tle.”

In amongst the highs and lows that fol­lowed, Ken­ton be­came a con­sul­tant for a big cof­fee com­pany and was trans­ferred to Aus­tralia. As luck would have it, a ma­jor car ac­ci­dent on his first day in the coun­try led to him meet­ing his nowwife, Rachel – a sports masseuse who ended up treat­ing him for his in­juries.

“She’s what kept me here,” Ken­ton says. “But I also felt like I came home when I came to Aus­tralia. Aus­tralia is punch­ing well above its weight in the culi­nary world, par­tic­u­larly for cof­fee. When I first ar­rived, the cof­fee thing hadn’t re­ally taken off yet, so I took ad­van­tage.”

Ken­ton and Rachel co-signed the lease for the very first Zar­raffa’s in 1995, and things just took off. Stores started pop­ping up in shop­ping cen­tres and later in larger drive-thru lo­ca­tions across Queens­land, then New South Wales and West­ern Aus­tralia.

“We’ve had of­fers from over­seas com­pa­nies want­ing to buy the busi­ness – some rea­son­ably se­ri­ous – but I haven’t taken on any of them for a num­ber of rea­sons,” Ken­ton says. “I guess from an en­tre­pre­neur­ial view, I’m not re­ally fin­ished here yet. I’ve got a 10-year busi­ness plan that I’m only part-way through, and I’ve put too much time into the cor­po­rati­sa­tion and the back-end sys­tems to walk away right now.

“Now that I think about it, I don’t know of many en­tre­pre­neur­ial cof­fee fran­chise founders who are still part of their busi­ness – I guess that’s some­thing to be proud of. But re­ally, it’s the other peo­ple in the busi­ness that keep me here. I would bow out if it weren’t for the peo­ple who are show­ing up and do­ing the work. So as long as they con­tinue to do it, I’ll be here for a long time.”

Ken­ton ex­plains that a host of for­mer Zar­raffa’s man­agers have ac­tu­ally ended up buy­ing their own fran­chises and, along with the cor­po­rate staff, they keep the ma­chine run­ning day-to-day.

“Ev­ery­thing’s cer­tainly come to fruition, but noth­ing hap­pens overnight. My­self and our fran­chisees con­sider Zar­raffa’s to be a per­sis­tent voice – we’re stay­ers, not play­ers,” says Ken­ton. “In busi­ness, it’s all about build­ing that good foun­da­tion. Ev­ery step takes a sac­ri­fice of some sort – whether it’s money or time – but as long as you’re pre­pared and un­der­stand the in­dus­try you’re in, you’ll have done as much as you can to al­le­vi­ate the stress and en­sure you suc­ceed.”

Since its in­cep­tion, Zar­raffa’s has trans­formed from a roast­ery and cof­fee shop into a na­tional lo­gis­tics and train­ing com­pany, se­cur­ing its place in the com­pet­i­tive cof­fee mar­ket. But it’s not about be­ing num­ber one, or even num­ber two, Ken­ton says – it’s sim­ply about com­pet­ing and giv­ing it your all.

“Jump out of the plane, climb the moun­tain, dive to the bot­tom of the trench,” he says. “I’d rather not die won­der­ing, ‘what if I’d done that?’”

Mov­ing swiftly from talks of planes and trenches to dis­cus­sion about the per­fect cup of joe, Ken­ton says his busi­ness has al­ways been based on sim­ply striv­ing to make the best cup of cof­fee, ev­ery time – it’s the Zar­raffa’s way.

“Some­times it’s not go­ing to be per­fect, but we’re al­ways try­ing to ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions,” he says. “A cus­tomer should be able to get the same cof­fee at ev­ery fran­chise, which is why we fo­cus so much on the train­ing and have fo­cused on that from the start.”

The ques­tion re­mains: What does the cof­fee guy or­der him­self?

“A quad Grande Amer­i­cano with pour­ing cream,” Ken­ton tells the cashier at the Zar­raffa’s he’s popped into, dur­ing our in­ter­view, en route to check out the site of his new head­quar­ters at the north­ern end of the Gold Coast. “You can’t get any­thing done with­out four shots of cof­fee!”

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