Small Business: Melba Group

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Shawn Pope and Jens Dalhoff, who created the Melba Group in 2008.  Photo / supplied
Shawn Pope and Jens Dalhoff, who created the Melba Group in 2008. Photo / supplied

Melba as a brand began with an iconic café in Auckland CBD's Vulcan Lane. The name has been around since 1996, but the brand really started to take off in 2006 when Café Melba was purchased by Shawn and Michelle Pope, who redesigned its now distinctive logo.

When the couple opened Takapuna in 2007, and brought Ellerslie into the fold in 2008, that's when the brand started to gain traction.

It was the merging of Café Melba with Café Malabar, owned by Jens Dalhoff, which created the Melba Group itself in 2008. Shawn and Jens, who met as trainee managers at McDonalds, rebranded Café Malabar in 2009, and continued to expand. There are now Café Melbas in Vulcan Lane, Hardinge Street in the city, Takapuna and in Ellerslie, plus the Melba Espresso Bar on Queen Street.

The Melba Group also runs Frolic Café in Epsom, as well as the Lodge Café in Mt Albert.

Shawn and Jens: Our philosophy is "localised, not homogenised" and this shows up in everything it does. In every café you'll find key signature dishes, table service and a deep running tradition of treating customers like family. And it proudly roasts its own coffee in New Zealand, which every café features and gives the Group total control over the entire process, from locating the beans, to processing, packaging and everything in between.

While each café business is independent and individual, they all subscribe to the same ethos of quality and service. Some people may never appreciate the connection, but others do join the dots because they see the same philosophy and similarities throughout.

This is evident in the way café managers are part of the Melba Group family, and are simultaneously encouraged to independently run their cafés to suit their individual locations and customers.

We put a lot of thought into making sure each site has its own flavour. The idea is to tailor the café to suit the environment, not the other way around.

Why move from one booming and iconic café to an entire group? It all comes back to when we wanted to open another café outside the CBD. We thought of all our regular customers who worked in the city, and wanted to give them that same experience at their local suburban cafe. It's continued to grow, because we are always looking to raise the bar within the industry.

The group centralises some facets of marketing, supply chain, operations and training. However most training happens at a store level and each café is entitled to part of a local store marketing budget. Each individual cafe is given its rightful place to shine.

Building the brand over the coming year and further into the future will focus heavily on customer loyalty programmes and strategic expansion. The Melba Group is always looking for opportunities, and we are currently investigating different sites within Auckland.

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