Customer Spotlight: De Mello Palheta
We sat down with Won Ho Cha, Co-Owner of De Mello Palheta Coffee Roasters to talk about their journey to building one of the most respected coffee brands in the city!
How did you get into the coffee scene?
[Won] My brother Felix and I started out as business partners in Australia. Having worked in the coffee space for a while, we built up our coffee knowledge over time. When we got to Canada we noticed that there weren’t a lot of specialty coffee shops in the Toronto scene and thought that it would be a great opportunity for us to do something in the city. At first, we were just roasting coffee for our own consumption and eventually a lot of people liked our coffee, so we decided to try out distributing our beans. The coffee shop part of the business was more out of respect and love for our neighbourhood. We also wanted to promote our name, what we do, the taste of our coffee and really to be able to showcase who we are and the shop was a great way to do that.
Where did you get inspiration for the name De Mello Pahleta?
[W] At the time, we were going through coffee history, more specifically key figures within that history. When we were going through that, we noticed that De Mello had a really cool sound to it. We dug deeper to learn about his stories. He’s not really the most popular or well-known figure in the history of coffee, but we found his stories to be fun and interesting. Thus, the De Mello brand was born.
How about the inspiration behind the interior design of the coffee shop?
[W] It’s pretty random to be honest. We wanted to go for a more funky vibe. At the start, we just had one blue sky as our base and we kept adding on to make the atmosphere more fun and comfortable. We didn’t want to go with the more modern or minimalist type of feel that a lot of other coffee shops have done, but rather be creative and funky with our designs.
It’s worked really well for us, especially for attracting guests into the coffee shop who value sharing their experiences on social media. Many of our guests actually take pictures during their visit, whether it’s of the space itself of having their picture taken too. It’s a funky and unique space and people realize that!
Where do you get the inspiration to name each of your roasts?
[W] We try to match the flavour to visualize the taste in a fun and creative way. So, for our Butterfly Kiss roast, it sounded very colourful and light and that matched the fruity flavour palette of that roast. Whereas our Deadman Walking roast sounds very dark and crazy, which felt like a very fitting name.
Why did you pick this location for your coffee shop?
[W] Honestly, we lucked out with our location choice. We initially took the space because it was on lease and we could live on top of the shop, which made the commute to work super easy. We didn’t even know that this area was about to blow up. We thought, this is a pretty safe, affluent neighbourhood and thought that was enough. We were really lucky.
How do you describe your guests and other people within this neighbourhood?
[W] I’ve never seen better customers in my life. This neighbourhood is awesome and the people even more so. They’re an extremely friendly group, we definitely consider them family. Our barista’s know pretty much 80-90% of our customers by name because most of them are regulars. Our neighbourhood isn’t like a business area where it’s very grab and go, it’s very community focused and we thrive in that environment.
What can first-time guests expect?
[W] They can expect to be given as much caffeine as possible! We always try to give our guests the opportunity to test out the different flavour palettes we have to offer so that they can have the best coffee experience possible. We want them to be happy with their choice every time.
Let’s talk a bit about your roastery. Where do you generally sell your beans?
[W] Mainly in coffee shops and restaurants around the city.
Having done this a couple times, what would your biggest piece of advice be to someone looking to open up their own place?
[W] I would say that when you’re looking to open up your new place, focus on three things: Traffic, location and neighbourhood. You want to make sure there’s enough people around who could potentially walk through your doors, that your location fits well with your restaurant type, and that what you have to offer fits well with the neighbourhood you’re picking.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge to date?
[W] Saving up money for reinvesting into the business is always tough within the restaurant space. It’s very much a balancing act between all of your expenses and the sales you make. For us, we make sure that our employees have higher wages because we want to treat them well. They’re the face of our business and they’re the ones that keep people coming back so they should be compensated for that. That makes it harder to reinvest into the business because our expenses are increased. It’s not a bad challenge to have.
Going off of that, how would you describe the culture of your team?
[W] I’m originally from Korea, and over there you clearly see that the customer always comes first. However, that means that employees aren’t treated as well, which is something that is really important to me. From my culture, I really focus on almost doing the opposite when it comes to my employees; I treat them like royalty. When you treat your employees well and with the utmost respect, that trickles down to your guests as well. A lot of coffee shops try to save money and cut costs with their employees first, and it shows with the service itself.
What got you interested in ChefHero?
[W] We had a rep come in and explain what ChefHero does and it solved a lot of our problems. We had a solid ordering schedule before switching to ChefHero, ordering about three times a week. However, whenever we had to make adjustments, we would have to call in and it was so annoying to do. With ChefHero, everything was online. That’s the first reason.
The second reason is the payment method. A lot of suppliers don’t take credit cards and it’s usually just cash or cheque on delivery. When you order three times a week, that’s a lot of cheques that we had to write and it was a very big hassle. Being able to pay through credit was a really big bonus.