Take a small shop on a street near the city with lots of cars and foot traffic flowing past, add a few seats inside and out, instal a large kitchen out the back that can accommodate in-house and takeaway orders and employ young ‘cool’ staff to serve light meals, coffee and cake. With these ingredients you have a reasonable chance of success. Oh, and locate near apartments to attract a Saturday crowd and ensure the coffee is good and the food tasty. Then sit back, fingers crossed and wait for customers.
This isn’t how you should kick off a business but many people do. No market research. Probably no business plan. Relatively small capital outlay. It works or it doesn’t.
“Why does this one work?” was the early morning thought that crossed my mind as I sat on the bench outside Flour and Stone in Riley Street in Sydney’s east. There was no room inside, even though that’s the place to be - but I didn’t mind.
Everything about Flour and Stone is special, different, addictive. I’m neither a caffeine addict nor sugar freak but I love this place. Why? Because it’s the experience — “Ah, no, that’s it. It’s the vibe. I rest my case,” to quote The Castle.
Here’s how a review in Broadsheet described this hip operation: “Flour and Stone is a tiny outfit, seating about a dozen people in total, but this just adds to the feeling that this bakery is simply bursting with delightful treats.”
It’s fast, friendly and a foodies delight.
Take the lamingtons. Until now I was only a fan of my husband’s grandmother’s lamingtons but this place has made me put Nan’s at number two. And what about the zucchini and chilli bap? Toasted, it makes a perfect breakfast and a good sugarless substitute to a croissant. Try the raspberry and pistachio cake. Or be tempted by whole pear muffins, more fruit, less calories.
Vegetarian and gluten free friendly, you won’t eat too much because the vibe gets you in as much as the food. It’s an urban cornucopia for anyone who wants to hit the office inspired by those who know how to bake. And people do come, in droves.
Hats off to founder Nadine Ingram, who started this small bakery in 2011, with a “consistent ambition to stay that way”.
I understand why this one works, as Nadine’s philosophy hinges on “quality and our contribution to the community around us and beyond”.
I believe her. Many small businesses can truthfully say words like these because the owner’s values permeate the business.
As I finished this short story, a colleague, Matt, coincidentally sent me an article written by US author Seth Godin, who wrote about a Parisian boulangerie called Poilane, a bakery “much smaller than its reputation would lead you to believe”. Godin became a close friend of the owners, who tragically died in a helicopter crash, leaving their daughter Apollonia to continue their work. Godin based his book Purple Cow on her Dad, Lionel: “It captured his energy and his care,” Godin said.
Not only did Apollonia maintain the quality of the bakery but its impact has only grown: “Apollonia has modelled the clarity and contribution of her Dad, and has shown us what it means to share ideas and to lead. From the first moment, she showed up in a way that honoured the memory of her parents: generosity, abundance and idiosyncrasy in service of craft and community” he added. There’s a lesson here that many businesses at the big end of town should take from two small business owners at opposite ends of the world, who understand that profit is important but so is a quality product and truly serving your community. If you don’t treat people properly, if you don’t act with integrity and if all you want to do is rip people off, Royal Commissions will keep coming. The IT industry in particular should take note — overcharging, under-servicing, fooling people who lack IT knowledge to buy products they don’t need. It sounds a lot like the financial services industry and look what happened there.