Instead of buying a cuppa in exchange for a place to work, Coffee Supreme is flipping the script.
For the last 25 years, Coffee Supreme has done one thing very well: sourcing, roasting, brewing and selling some seriously decent coffee. Running cafes is pretty much second nature to its business. Running a shared workspace? Not so much.
Inside a white, nondescript building on Auckland’s Great North Road is Chairs, Coffee Supreme’s first-ever foray into the co-working world. It’s a bright airy space that houses 32 desks, two meeting rooms, plus all the usual amenities like wifi, printing, a fully stocked kitchen, and of course an infinite supply of steaming hot coffee. While the workspace itself only opened in May, the business first moved into the building two years ago following the closure of its much-loved Good One cafe back in 2015.
“At first, we were like ‘heck yeah! We’re going to build an amazing cafe!’” says Sophie Evans, events and marketing manager for Coffee Supreme. “But it turned out it was going to be super expensive, so we went back to the drawing board and thought about how the core of our business was all about hospitality. We love what happens over a shared cup of coffee, potentially even more than the cup of coffee itself.”
“We think [a workspace] still offers a true form of hospitality. We have people over, there’s always a pot of coffee on, and there’s a community vibe here. Normally [in a cafe], you charge people for coffee and give them a ‘desk’ for free. This time, we’ve just flipped it and give them the coffee for free but charge them for the desk.”
Likely owing to its roots in the hospitality sector, Chairs feels distinct from other co-working spaces like Silicon-Valley influenced BizDojo and multi-storey complex the B:HIVE. Supreme’s space is comparable to a cafe, just with more desks, less food; more power points, less noise. If you want to work here, it costs $35 to rent a desk for a day or $625 if you want a desk for a month (for comparison, hotdesking costs $39 per day at BizDojo and $40 at Eden Terrace’s Thinkspace).
When I spend a few hours working at Chairs to get a sense of the place, there are just six or seven other people working quietly away – way more quietly than at The Spinoff’s open-plan office or any cafe I’ve ever been to in Auckland. There’s no loud obnoxious music, no latte-sippin’ jams, no eavesdrop-worthy conversations about so and so’s holiday in south-east Asia, only the hiss and hum of espresso machines from Supreme’s training room where baristas drop by to get trained. At one point, they ask if we’d all like a coffee – a proper coffee, rather than one from the pot. I sheepishly request an oat milk flat white and it comes out creamy and delicious.
Aesthetically, Chairs is clean, minimalist, and painstakingly immaculate – everything you think of when you think of Supreme. There’s an obvious and deliberate colour scheme of red, white and grey running through the whole place, reflecting a strong desire to maintain Supreme’s brand identity. It’s partly why leasing the space out to businesses, at least in a more traditional sense, was never an option (“We’re mild control freaks,” jokes Evans).
In that sense, Chairs targets a market of tenants that already align with its clean, modern brand – mainly freelance creatives who’d otherwise flock to cafes to work, but also startups in the food and beverage sector. Long term tenants include Bonnie Goods and Almighty Juice, while companies like Arepa and Minor Figures have also used its facilities in the past.
“One of the benefits [of working here] is that we extend the Coffee Supreme community to Chairs tenants,” says Evans. “For example, if one of our account managers find an awesome new cafe that’s opened, they might go and tell Almighty about it and suggest they try and get their juice in there.
“Obviously, we’re a bigger business than the businesses that are renting desks, so sometimes [if we’re approached to chuck something in a goodie bag], then we might tell one of our tenants like Bonnie Goods that these goodie bags are going out to some super important people who have money. Maybe they want to put some stuff in too?”
Almighty Juice founder and Chairs’ first-ever tenant Ben Lenart agrees: “We’re a small team so it’s nice to be around other like-minded people doing similar sorts of things… the sharing of ideas and knowledge is probably where some of the greatest benefits lie.”
Chairs is Auckland’s newest co-working space, but it certainly won’t be the last. Flexible workspaces are booming in New Zealand and it’s indicative of the time we live in now – a time when the gig economy is getting bigger, the number of traditional offices is getting smaller, and real estate is getting increasingly expensive. More people than ever are working freelance, but that doesn’t mean that craving for a community just goes away.
“We’re definitely mainly a coffee business – this is on the periphery – but we did want to get resourceful with the space we had,” says Evans. “A lot of these people are freelancers, so you’re either working at home or working in a cafe. So you come in here because you want a community vibe, you want to talk to people.
“We already know the coffee we make is delicious, so it’s about [asking ourselves]: ‘What else can we do to make it awesome?’”
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