Startup Stories: Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird

Startup Stories: Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird


We ignore the trends, the marketing, the smoke and mirrors. Our reason for being is to get people excited about good coffee.

Andy Gelman

Dean Atkins and Andy Gelman are the passionate owners of Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird – a boutique coffee roaster, wholesaler, café and retail outlet based in the Bayside suburb of Gardenvale. They are also my first clients as a lawyer. 

I sat down with Andy recently and asked him to tell me a little bit about their startup story. 

Early Days

Dean and Andy met whilst both working at Inkr 7, a café in Melbourne’s bayside hot spot of St Kilda. In those early days, they struck up a friendship off the back of the fact that they both took hospitality and their jobs seriously. Andy explains:  

For most people, hospitality isn’t their primary focus. It’s either something they do whilst studying or travelling, or the only job that they are able to get. So for Dean and I, to both take the industry seriously and know that this was a career that we are passionate about drew us together.”  

That mutual passion for food and coffee continued when Dean purchased Figgies, an established café in Bay Street Brighton and overhauled the business to launch “Rupert & the Fig”. Rupert’s (as it was affectionately known) was serving amazing coffee and quality breakfast back before Melbourne was so spoiled for choice, and was a regular feature in any write up of Melbourne’s best cafés throughout the mid to late 2000s. It was also where I first met the guys as I did my own stint through hospitality whilst finishing off my own studies (I suppose that made me one of those people just passing through). In those days, fern leaf latte art would genuinely surprise customers and draw gasps of appreciation, and Rupert’s was one of the few cafés that regularly served it up.  

Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird

Dean and Andy founded Omar’s in 2010, and again drew rave reviews, with many taken by the unique industrial look and “tables on rails” setup. This time, they took their passion for coffee a step further by installing an impressive looking computer controlled coffee roaster and roasting their own beans.  

As coffee lovers, their overriding goal is to get people excited about coffee. Which is why the driving force behind Omar’s is a focus on quality. They source their own seasonally available beans from farmers around the world and have invested in humidity controlled fridges to preserve the coffee until it reaches the customer’s cup.  

In Melbourne’s flooded café scene, where consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to quality coffee, Omar’s sets itself apart by the quality of its service and the simplicity in its approach. This is borne out by the fact that Omar’s has a “no latte art policy”, despite the guys being early pioneers of that craft. I asked Andy why that is: 

Once you introduce latte art into the mix, baristas naturally compete to outdo each other. Coffee is to be enjoyed, not something that is a source of competition. We also want to maintain consistency, so that our customers know what to expect from each and every cup.

Startup Stories: Dean Atkins and Andy Gelman
Dean Atkins and Andy Gelman

Co-owning a Business

Having worked with each other for over 15 years, I was keen to ask Andy his views as to what made for a successful business relationship. Whilst he jokingly replied that he’d let me know once he worked it out, he did emphasise the importance of communication and carving out separate roles for each other. As to the first, the guys meet every week, even when they have nothing on the agenda just to ensure that they’re still bouncing things off each other.  

Whilst they both still spend time working in the café, Andy focuses much of his time on sourcing beans from overseas whilst Dean is working to build the wholesale and online sales aspect of the business. I asked Andy what he loves most about his work with coffee growers: 

The lack of an ego. With the farmers it’s all about agriculture and hard work and going to the source of the coffee certainly brings you back down to earth. There’s none of the marketing crap associated with Melbourne’s coffee scene.” 

When it comes to the online space, Omar’s has launched a coffee subscription service. Customers can order fortnightly or monthly deliveries which allow them to sample coffee beans from around the world. Interestingly, it took the guys three attempts to get their online store up and running. Andy explains: 

At first, we tried to save money and went with a more cost effective option. Eventually, we realised that we would rather pay a little more to get it done right and to our standard.” 

At this stage, their coffee wholesale operations remain limited. In the current environment, the larger commercial coffee roasters are clamouring over themselves to hand out free coffee machines, umbrellas and other merchandise to prospective café operators. This race to the bottom approach does not sit well with Dean and Andy and the Omar’s philosophy.  

Legal

Finally, I asked Andy what he thought about the partnership documents that they put in place all those years ago (if you’re wondering, yes I was fishing for a compliment). Andy’s reply set my mind at ease, as he truthfully told me that he hadn’t needed to look at them in all this time. This is something that I regularly harp on about: the best case scenario when implementing partnership documents is that you never need them. It means that your partnership is in good shape (but they are there as an insurance policy in case that changes).

One thing Andy did say is that he valued the process that they went through when implementing their partnership documents. He found it helpful to have the difficult conversation at the start, which set the stage for their future relationship.  

When I asked what Andy what he valued in his professional advisors, the answer was instant: simplicity and plain English. 

Visit

Where: Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird, 124 Gardenvale Road Gardenvale

Online: https://coffeebird.com.au/

Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird
Omar & the Marvellous Coffee Bird