This was featured in the June edition of Jack Mag
With his obsessive tendency for perfection and a visionary for excellence and precision in all avenues of work and life, Sam Gabrielian, in the driver’s seat at Gabriel Coffee Roasters, is a strong believer that the fundamental to any successful business is through the quality and consistency of it’s product. It is this product which has served him unconditionally over 20 years, which he holds a love and devotion for and has earned him an OG aka ‘Godfather' title in Australia's Coffee Industry.
And this is his story ....
"At 22, I owned my own café in Sydney’s lower north shore, my first serious job out of school. I owned and managed this cafe for 5 solid years, and it was during this time that I developed a passion for the bean and where my fascination for coffee began”. 20 years ago, baristas were forging their own profession. They were a small yet growing breed, distinctively diverse in their education and skill set.
"Many of us were self-taught. I drew inspiration from my personal experience serving coffee to my customers and through exploring the senses, honing in on smell, touch and taste to gather inspiration. In the early 00's, sensory feedback was king. No specific brew recipes, no hard and fast rules, just adaptation of the product to extract its very best qualities. "I had a flare for it. With an obsessive compulsive nature and a keen eye for quality and perfection, I expanded my craft whilst experimenting with my coffee supplier at the time, to achieve consistently superior blends. Through greater experimentation, I outgrew the knowledge of my roaster / supplier and found myself wanting more control in production and the final outcome. I fell in love with the process and my coffee infatuation was cemented”.
With this newfound purpose, Gabrielian went on to experiment with different roasting methodologies and began using the same green coffee seasonally in 6 monthly periods in an effort to gain some con- sistency and maintain the overall supremacy of his product. Naturally this progression from brewing led to part-time roasting, whilst he ran his café. Initially, this part time gig took place within his coffee suppliers warehouse and roasting facility.
"I started roasting in 2003, supplying a few local cafes. These part-time roasting sessions soon surpassed my role as a café owner, and inspired the birth of Gabriel Coffee, my wholesale busi- ness which grew organically from word of mouth, onwards from 2006. By then, I had achieved many accolades as a barista and held the position as chairman in 2004 Barista Guild AASCA, host- ing and organising some of the earliest Australian Barista Championships. With this I felt like I was ready to endeavour a new personal challenge, my next new obsession”.
"For many years I sourced directly the green beans from their origin. I visited the farmers and put supply in place and with a three man team, we roasted, packed, dispatched and ran a humble yet evolving business which served me for years to come.
As I worked on mastering my trade, I implemented processes to ensure product quality and greater efficiency, which facilitated the growth of my business and soon enough I had set up the infrastructure so that my business was fully self-sufficient. This then enabled me to switched my focus on nurturing my creative side which is a total contrast in my personality which had primarily always focused on functionality and practically. The progression for me, has been this immersion of my practical and creative skill sets in leading the steady growth of my brand”.
Working with this creative foresight, and commencement of developing retail venues, Gabrielian soon gave rise to many hot spots on the north shore. "I designed and built 8 cafes and became very hands on in each phase of their existence. With my business partners who were mainly in situ within the businesses, I too was right there alongside them in operations and management.".
Ensuring the philosophy and the ethos of his brand were well represented at all times and with his attention to detail, in all aspects, wholefood offerings, coffee blends and brews, aesthetic and ambience, the development and execution of each facet were derivative of Gabrielian's vision.
"As my focus shifted between 2012 to 2018 to retail venues, developing cafes and consulting in the retail industry, I let go of some of the control with Gabriel Coffee, leaving it in the hands of competent key staff members, industry innovators, to make major decisions for the business. This worked well initially, but I soon felt the effects straying from my core business. The greatest lesson experienced in business to date has came from this time astray. The input, commitment and dedication I had put into Gabriel in it's initial and second stage was fundamental to its success and growth. Without my hands-on involvement, it lacked ambition, drive and direction”.
This was a necessary wake up call for Gabrielian. Realising his involvement in all aspects of his business was the fundamental key for maintaining its success. This lead Sam to sell off his cafes progressively over the course of 2-3 years, currently only owning the last of them today - in Sydney’s Neutral Bay. Coming back from this period of absence, he has recalibrated his focus and attention to Gabriel Coffee, and it’s looking better than ever. "It feels like I’m starting from scratch again. My knowledge is flooding back naturally since picking up the tools from where I left off. As it fires up my interests, I’m salivating over the experience again. A lot has changed in a short space of time. Methods, equipment and systems are forever evolving. However, the real focus for me now is reintroducing the quality and controls necessary for the consistency of my product, this has always been my constitutional goal. We own the technology and our infrastructure is rich and self -sufficient, to which I now know most roasters lack. I have re- invested our profits into coffee roasting equipment in an effort to perfect the outcome of this raw and natural product. Where others have spent money in creating brand status and promotional buzz through marketing and sales techniques, I have invested into equipment and systems. I've favoured the word-of-mouth approach. If people like the product, the word will spread." Sam relays that Gabriel has steered away from promotions and campaigns and his business has grown solely through reputation.
"My view on establishing a solid business model incorporates a very simple principle: sales can only take a business so far, the product must speak for itself. I do believe it takes time, a relentless pursuit of consistency, without compromise. This begins with creating and developing relationships with the farmers, tasting and evaluating fresh harvests, sample roasting and profile development, blend experimentation and then replication of batch roasting on the bigger roasters to produce a product that we feel proud to share. A product that we dedicate ourselves to and stand by, wholeheartedly. Coffee should not only be satisfying but also a rewarding experience”. Sam’s small team of coffee obsessives continue to drive home this point, crafting & roasting blends, training a new wave of coffee professionals and providing added support to existing businesses on the road. In an industry that is dominated by ever changing technology and methodologies, one thing remains the same. Sam and his team have a unique approach to coffee, despite all the science used on site daily, don’t be lead astray by the numbers. Use your intuition as you evaluate with the senses. He invites you to do the same with your next Gabriel coffee experience.