Alun Evans is a down-to-earth man with a passion for coffee and a heart for people. In 1998, a 28-year-old Evans moved to Indonesia from New Zealand to fulfil his coffee dream. Moving between his cafes in Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and soon, Philippines – Evans took time to sit down with us and talk about how he does it and what matters most…
By Louisa Devadason
Within any given week, Alun Evans has probably travelled to three countries.
He’s a coffee artisan and entrepreneur who always has a suitcase packed and ready; so he can be hands on, and support every part of his business.
How has Evans achieved his dreams of building a thriving, continually growing coffee and café business?
A strong vision and an abundance of enthusiasm
Evans enjoys the movement, and the hustle-and-bustle of managing multiple businesses internationally.
He says, “I think moving around so much keeps me sharp. For sure it keeps me active! It has taught me to be ultra-organised. I keep small suitcases in every city I spend time in that I carry onto the plane. I try to streamline my time and to use every second of the day and this, I really enjoy a lot.”
As Evans’ cafes continue to expand and grow – Evans hasn’t lost sight of what matters most in his journey: excellence and people.
“Bringing a high level of café experience to my many customers who vary so much in age and background is so very important. Giving enjoyment, a feeling of ownership to both customers and the people who work around me is also very important. As in any business I am only as good as those around me – from my managers in different cafes all the way to the bits and bolts – this who wash the dishes, mop the floors- everyone is so vitally important in making the café what it is.”
Customers can still catch him sometimes at the Bangsar branch greeting them at the door and serving.
He’s committed to being hands on in all parts of the business from sourcing beans, to working with farmers, from roasting beans, to serving patrons.
He loves every part of his business and stays involved. Evans gives great attention to detail but says as a leader and owner he sometimes has to take a step back.
The hardest part of managing multiple cafes all over Asia is trying to micromanage each and every cafe. I love giving my spin of hospitality to all my customers. From opening the door to saying goodbye. Part of my growing pains is forcing myself to let some of this go while still being able to focus on the big picture of this café experience.
Evans looks after his business by looking after his staff first. He has a relationship with his branch managers built on trust and respect.
Utilising the benefits of modern technology, Evans communicates constantly and openly with his managers from all over and trusts that they’ve got a handle on things.
Evans focuses on good, vigorous training of newcomers so that everyone is on the same page about quality, craft and customer service.
He said getting the right people on board is the biggest challenge he faces and it’s an important one.
Adding, “my greatest challenge: people. Wanting the best people means we seldom compromise on recruiting. It’s a huge challenge as the temptation is always there to recruit to fill a hole. But from experience it’s better to fill that hole with the right material rather than sand or clay.”
Learning and growing
From 1998 to 2010, Evans was living in Jakarta and directly sourcing coffee from over 30 different farming communities across Indonesia – working with families of coffee farmers to harvest and produce an ethical and socially-responsible way to benefit the community and environment.
With the economic boost, some of these communities have been able to build new mosques and schools.
When Evans first got to Indonesia though, things were harder than his younger self imagined it would be: he didn’t speak Bahasa Indonesia, he faced some push-back from middle-men being cut out of the process, and he had a lot to learn about Indonesia and coffee.
He shared that while there are somethings he could have done differently or better – he regrets none of it because it’s been part of the journey and where he finds himself today.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt: plans go wrong. Often. I’ve really had to learn to be ready to be flexible in planning and become more adaptable as things go wrong.
Evans was young and successful in his previous job but his career didn’t fulfill one big thing: his passion. That is coffee and everything about it.
A chance encounter with someone who challenged him to do something about his dream changed everything.
He articulated his vision to someone at a party who said, “you know what you want to do. Figure out what you need to do it and in a year from now be where you need to be to do it.”
A year later, Evans was on a plane to Indonesia. He shared that it was both a terrifying and exciting decision but sometimes you just have to make that risky choice and commit wholeheartedly.
20 years later, of course, we know Evans successfully owns a boutique coffee company, Merdeka Coffee and is an international restauranteur as Antipodean has several branches in three, soon to be four, countries.
To future, young, budding entrepreneurs – Evans had this to say,
Follow your dreams. It so easy to be comfortable and to stay within your zone of working a job you are being paid for, but not happy in. Really think about what you would love to do. If it’s coffee throw your spare time into learning as much about it as you can.
Find a mentor, put time in with him or her at their business. See what makes them successful. See the passion. Forget the hours you need to put in. At the end of your research if you feel great about going forward make a business plan, get family and friends support and do it.
Louisa is currently pursuing a Masters of Development Practice overseas, majoring in community development. She is an editorial associate and freelance writer with Leaderonomics. An extrovert who loves the outdoors; she thinks change is exciting and should be embraced. Chat with her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.