Sheer resolve and focusing on the community have helped Olivia Morland’s suburban cafe thrive. By Cameron Cooper
When Olivia Morland decided to set up a suburban cafe six years ago, some doubters may have written her off. After all, she had no experience in hospitality. She had little idea about recruiting good chefs. And she was in a bind over the location to target.
The former country girl had some other traits that would more than compensate for those issues, though. Passion. Willpower. Self-belief. Not to mention a love of organising things and a willingness to ask questions. “I’m very determined,” Morland says.
Today, Goodness Gracious Cafe is a thriving eatery in the leafy suburb of Graceville in south-west Brisbane. Seating 80 to 100 people in a quaint old Queenslander-style building, it has become a landmark for locals as they drive down Oxley Road, a thoroughfare on which mums and dads traverse daily as they head to the numerous schools and community and sports centres in the area.
“A young family community—that’s what I’m targeting,” says Morland, who has lived in the neighbouring suburb of Chelmer for more than a decade after growing up on a dairy farm in Kyogle, New South Wales.
Despite her lack of hospitality experience, Morland was not a business novice when her cafe dream started to materialise. She had worked in the retail sector for The Just Group and rose through the ranks from casual staff member to become a manager at the company’s fashion outlet, Dotti. “I loved the business side of things—the paperwork, making sure everything was organised, and having a team,” she says.
With the fallout from the global financial crisis dampening trade and the shift to online shopping hurting high-street retail, Morland decided it was time to do her own thing. She was drawn to the cafe trade, a sector that accommodated her passion for customer service while being as tough as retail. “So maybe I just love a challenge,” says Morland, laughing.
After toying with the idea of opening a cafe in southeast Brisbane, Morland opted to stay in her own backyard, negotiating to take over the lease of a former photography studio in Graceville. That is when her real baptism into the business began.
What started as some neighbours objecting to the prospect of having a busy cafe on their doorstep turned into a near two-year battle with council for licensing approvals that cost Morland thousands of dollars and plenty of lost sleep. She did not waste the downtime, however, and even credits it, in part, for the success of Goodness Gracious.
As the council battle dragged on, Morland worked in cafes in Brisbane and Melbourne, all the while picking up ideas to apply to her own business. Inspired by eateries such as The Kettle Black and Higher Ground in Melbourne, she came to realise that success hinged not just on providing great food and drinks but on creating a desirable ambience and culture.
“They like to create a cult around their brand and that’s what really draws me in, too.”
With licensing approval finally coming through in May ’14, Goodness Gracious opened its doors later that year with a commitment to becoming a community hub. Winning a silver award for the best Coffee Shop/Tea House at the 2017 Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering HOSTPLUS National Awards is a clear sign that Goodness Gracious is delivering on its promise. “That’s the cherry on top of the cake for us,” Morland says.
What has been the secret to success for Morland? She says the hospitality sector has a reputation for “churning and burning” employees—and Goodness Gracious has been determined to buck that trend to ensure it has quality and consistency of staff. Morland has been fastidious about giving her team appropriate contracts, wages and entitlements, along with the opportunity to engage in training and personal development.
She tries to hire front-counter and wait staff who have an affinity with the food sector, including nutrition and sports science students and others with a background in health. As a manager, she is constantly impressing on staff the importance of being connected with the business and its customers. “You’ve got to be engaged to have a job here,” she says.
Regular menu changes have also been part of the blueprint for Goodness Gracious to keep diners coming back, with two-thirds of the fare continuously changing every six to eight weeks.
When seeking business advice, Morland looks close to home—to her father, Matthew Morland, in fact. He now lives in Brisbane and is semi-retired but still runs a beef property south of Brisbane. “To me, great businesses are like farms in that the challenges you go through every day of growing and developing are very similar,” says Matthew.
The other big business lessons he has conveyed to Morland are twofold: never forget that customers pay the bills; and remember to have a narrow and focused view of any objectives.
“Far too many of us seem to spread our wings and go further afield, but you’re not in touch with the area in which you actually do make a difference,” Matthew says. For Goodness Gracious, that has meant sticking to its bread and butter of serving breakfast and lunch after a brief trial of opening at night for dinner.
Matthew credits his daughter with being a good listener and is not surprised she has quickly turned the cafe into a profitable endeavour.
“Determined, independent; there’s a couple of words to describe her. And she has confidence and belief in the direction she is going, which means she’s been able to put her plan into action without blinking.”
Staying true to her country roots, Morland’s goal has been to run a community-friendly cafe that also supports farmers and other produce suppliers. This community focus is especially apt for Graceville, which along with nearby suburbs Chelmer, Sherwood, Corinda and Oxley were hammered in the devastating 2011 Queensland floods.
Such diversity inspired the so-called Mud Army to don their gum boots and pick up their shovels to help the flood victims, and it galvanised locals in a way that is still evident today.
“Everyone just started saying hello to everyone, whereas when I first moved to the city it was every man for himself,” Morland explains. She has tapped into that vibe. “I wanted to create a place in the suburbs so you don’t have to go into the popular areas or the city to go to a great cafe.”
Now with a team of 25 to 30, the pieces of the business jigsaw are slotting in nicely for Goodness Gracious. Matthew could not be prouder of his daughter and, in a pointer to her success, quips that there are no freebies for him and other family members at the cafe.
“If you go in and you’re a family member and having a coffee, you ensure that you pay,” he says. “It’s a good policy and speaks volumes about how you run your operation.”
With Goodness Gracious attracting crowds that snake out the door, Morland has reconfigured the kitchen and expanded food preparation areas. For other cafe owners, her advice is succinct. Take your time when developing plans. Set high standards and be consistent. Ask others for advice when you do not know the answers. Stay grounded. “I try to keep a level head and reflect that it’s not luck that I’m busy—I’ve made it this way, and that centres me.”
Olivia Morland suggests 5 ways to make a cafe feel like home away from home
1. Choose premises wisely Olivia Morland admits old Queenslanders require a lot of maintenance, but the flipside is that such buildings provide the charm that has put Goodness Gracious on the map.
2. Focus on interior design and amenities Stylish tables and chairs here, healthy plants there. “It’s all of those little finishing touches that add to the ambience,” she says.
3. Create communal spaces Morland provides a space where community members can meet outside their homes. “If they come here, they don’t have to worry about what their house looks like or how they’re going to cater for an event.”
4. Promote a friendly environment “I love it when a mum walks in and says hello to people at five different tables and then goes and finds the group she’s sitting with. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
5. ‘Read’ your customers Morland says many cafe owners offer a style of food they like, even if it’s not what the customers desire. “We took six months to tailor our menu to exactly what the community wants.”