Coffee and bagels is what Greg Cornes says he does best. But he also says his move to a online ordering system during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which he has since retained, has meant for a more relaxed experience, and something no longer common in the hospitality space.
Cornes, who opened three Goodness Gracious cafes (including one in Parnell), was interviewed by Aimee Shaw from Waikato Times about how it feels to reach a 10-year milestone, what it’s really like to own a cafe and how the realities compare to the quintessential Kiwi dream.
What has your venture set out to achieve?
The initial motivation was I wanted something in hospitality early on. I started a business course at university which I eventually dropped out of because I felt I was learning more out in the real world in a hospitality job as a barman. It was from there that I realised I could see myself in a hospitality business.
Back then I didn’t know if that was going to be a cafe, nightclub or restaurant, but I came to realise a day time operation would be more fitting to fit the lifestyle I wanted, knowing that I probably wanted a family at some point and I couldn’t see myself doing the late nights in a restaurant. The motivation to do something was always there, but in the 15 years leading into Goodness Gracious, I refined what the product is that I wanted to offer.
In the end it was really the space I found that informed the menu. I had spent some time in Melbourne and one of my favourite places was one that served bagel sandwiches, and I realised in Auckland at the time there was a gap for that so went down the path of developing a menu. Today, we have three cafes—in Parnell, Eden Terrace and Takapuna.
How much have time and money have you invested in it until now?
The initial investment to get up and running was $200,000. I worked in Melbourne six, seven days a week from 10am 1am, just saving everything I could, and when I came back I was very fortunate that my Mum saw an opportunity to invest in some property and that enabled me to leverage myself down the track. Ultimately, I was able to sell the house to leverage me in a place, which was no small doing because by that time I had one child with another child on the way and came to the point where it was like, do I stay in a job that pays OK with supporting my family or sell the house to pursue the thing I had always wanted to do.
What’s your biggest lesson over the past 10 years?
It has been more of a psychological battle. That’s something I never appreciated until I was the captain of the ship. I’d seen how running a business and the stress of that could take a toll on people, in my experience working for other people, and I don’t think I understood the scale of that and all the things you deal with. How to navigate that has been the biggest learning; how to remain happy and healthy.
What’s one thing you wish you’d known before starting the business?
I would have liked to have known there was a pandemic coming. The business is different, post-Covid. As a day time operator, the work from home trends have impacted us. Last year when the employment level was quite low and staff had the power, work from home was very much four days at home, one day in the office, and having that swing back the other way to this year where it is looking like maybe there will be a sweetspot of 3 to 4 days in the office, that constant change has changed the flow of the city and our business, and that’s where digitisation helped.
What was classic for us was Tuesday quiet and we built all the way back up to the weekend. That has gone out the window, since coming out of Covid. We can have a super hectic Tuesday one week and that day next week is quiet, and it is forever changing. Some days the surrounding businesses have every staff member in, and then the next down to only 20% capacity, so that has been the biggest thing to contend with.
What does your operation look like, digitally?
When we opened in 2014, we had web-based ordering through an app provider, and that was always a nice to have, it wasn’t critical. It was during the first lockdown of the pandemic that we obtained a new online partner, who evolved our ordering. That first lockdown evening I had an epiphany that during the hard lockdown we could still send goods via couriers from our two suppliers to our customers to keep us afloat, and from that point we wholly embraced online ordering.
It became more paramount and as we have grown into the new normal post-Covid, we extended on that with a kiosk ordering and payment system, with QR ordering and payments. We have an online kiosk and table ordering, and that’s helped us lower our staff numbers, and took stress away when we couldn’t secure staff. I have four less staff per day than pre-Covid times. As costs have risen, that has helped offset that by decreasing staff costs. We also are 100% cashless.
Even though it has been challenging to put that on and educate the customer base as they come through, it has been far less challenging than dealing with industry issues with full menus and trying to fully-staff the place. Covid helped to refine our business for the new normal. I’m just happy that we’re 10 years in and all three sites have come through the challenges and the opportunity to take this further.
Is owning a cafe still considered an easy way to get into business?
The cost of entry has come down. We have the most coffee roasters per capita and with that comes competition between the coffee companies. Nowadays, you can get some good quality coffee machines, grinders, and all the equipment you need, for basically zero costs upfront. There are a lot of factors like that which have made the cost of entry a lot more achievable. But whether the industry is any easier in terms of running it, I would say it is harder. With that cost of entry being lower, it is a lot more diluted, and there have been a lot of challenges that operators have to deal with. It is more challenging in the running, but less challenging in getting up and running.
In three years time…
I suspect we will have one or two more sites. I still see plenty of growth in this business. The feedback we get and trading we do suggests there is opportunity to push further.
Most helpful piece of advice you have ever received?
Don’t be too hard on yourself, and trust your decisions. Pay attention to the numbers. With the rate of inflation and the influence that has had on increased prices, especially so rapidly, that has been critical.
This article was first published by Waikato Times. Click here for the full article.