One of Australia’s largest independently owned and operated coffee roasters, Merlo opened the doors of its latest store on January 16, with its official launch to be held on February 10.
“We had been wanting to roast in Melbourne for quite a few years now,” explained Merlo Coffee MD, Dean Merlo. “The problem was finding a location that would suit – and the Queen Victoria Market, just on the edge of the CBD, is perfect. The wait was certainly worth it.”
Now Merlo offers a total of 15 retail outlets – six Bar Merlos (essentially cafes) and nine torrefaziones (Italian for roasting house), where shoppers can sample a free coffee before buying their freshly roasted beans.
“The whole point of the Melbourne exercise is an experiment for us,” Merlo said. “We’d like to set up a base like this in most places around Australia. It’s a great retail experiment for us.”
Many shoppers at the Queen Vic are foodies who appreciate the freshest of produce, including, of course, coffee.
Adding to the authentic nature of the offer, the décor showcases a mix of traditional and contemporary features. Rustic brick and warm wood complements the use of metal and glass.
The natural brick is heritage listed, so has been preserved and is now a feature.
“It’s one corner of the original Queen Victoria Markets shed and it’s all bricked in, which is really great,” Merlo said. “And then on the floor we’ve done this really cool black, white and grey geometric design of tiles.”
As blue is the Merlo brand colour, the shopfront showcases brick-style blue tiles that contrast and balance a key interior feature – the bright red baby Brambati, a cutting edge mini roaster. The roaster is in plain view so customers can sit down and watch the roaster at work. Brambati coffee roasters are considered some of the world’s finest.
“We have the grand daddy of them in Brisbane and this is a smaller version, but equally as sophisticated,” Merlo explained. “There are Perspex tubes that go across from the roaster straight into stainless steel and copper silos that serve straight out to the public – which is, I think, unique.”
Large TV screens display the time and temperature of the roasting process and show its more technical aspects.
“The outdoor area is in the markets and has cool little round seats,” Merlo said. “It’s a good design.”
Conducive to relaxed get-togethers, the stylish outside stools seat around 50 while inside will seat 30 to 40 when the full complement of furniture arrives shortly for the officially opening.
“After years of planning, our long-term vision is now a reality; not only will the famous blue Merlo coffee cups now be seen around Melbourne, but we will be roasting beans all day, every day – ensuring our commitment to freshness and authenticity is delivered in Melbourne.”
Expansion strategy in full flight
The Melbourne opening follows openings in Queensland’s Victoria Point and Indooroopilly last year, as well as a full refurbishment of the popular Springfield Merlo Torrefazione – all part of the company’s growth strategy.
“We opened a shop in Springfield with a roasting operation which was a greenfield site and it’s been such a great performer,” Merlo enthused. “It shows people want a fresh, roasted product.”
Coffee lovers can choose from a range of blends, single origins, limited edition beans, or Merlo’s famous Bean of the Month whereby a rare bean is featured to extend customer palates and educate them on coffee from around the world. Nobody has sold coffee as a fresh commodity before, according to Merlo.
Merlo has a retail presence in its own name as well as wholesale – it also supplies coffee beans to over 1000 cafes nationwide. Its wholesale presence has spread quickly from its home base in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, moving first to the Gold Coast.
“[It] has been a huge area for us,” Merlo said of the Gold Coast. “Since then we’ve been working our way further and further south – we’ve got accounts through Lismore and Coffs Harbour, have some great accounts moving all the way down south, eventually we’re going to be in Sydney – that’s for certain,” he said.
In addition, Merlo also has wholesale clients overseas in, for example, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand and also in the US, where, interestingly, expat Australians living there regularly have their coffee orders shipped over.
Beans are sourced from what are considered to be the top six coffee producing countries in the world – Brazil, Nicaragua, Columbia, Kenya, New Guinea and Costa Rica.
“We like to use the best beans possible. We have some really talented and experienced coffee people from around the world working for us and it’s our mission to produce great coffee. And that’s how we go about doing it.”
The Friends of Merlo loyalty club numbers 65,800 currently, with eDMs sent out once a month to keep coffee aficionados up to date with the latest offerings.
“We just want to open shops that we see have opportunity,” Merlo said of the future plans for the business. Certainly Melbourne and we’d love to open a place in Sydney – that’s for certain,” he said.
“We’re really just evaluating the best way to do that. Sydney’s obviously a lucrative market and it’s a good and sophisticated coffee market, so we want to pick a site well. It’s on our radar.”
Behind the Merlo name
Luigi Merlo, the grandfather of Merlo Coffee MD, Dean Merlo, operated a trattoria in his hometown in Italy and when his son Gino migrated to Australia and settled Queensland in the 1950s, he brought the first Italian espresso machine into the state, starting the state’s coffee revolution.
Gino went on to open the famous Milano’s in Queen Street – one of Brisbane’s most famed restaurants. With son Dean, Gino served everyone – from Pope John Paul II to the Queen. In 1991, Dean Merlo opened his own cafe ‘at the wrong end of Queen Street’ in Brisbane and the foundations of Merlo Coffee were laid.
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