The Dispensary Caters to a New Breed of Scarfie
There is something special about a good cafe. Nick Scott is someone who seems to have discovered the recipe. We sat down with the Dispensary Cafe owner several days after opening his and business partner Jo Verberne's latest venture the Albany St Dispensary. Nick has followed on from the success of the original Dispensary Cafe which is based in the foyer of the Dunedin Hospital, to open a second cafe that shares the same name on North Dunedin's Albany Street. Although the interior fit outs are quite different, the underlining concept of the business remains the same.
Nick and his business partner Jo Verberne (Jo manages the Hospital Dispensary) have opened the doors to their new cafe. So far the response has exceeded their expectations. Exposed concrete walls, a large brooding landscape by local artist Greg Lewis, second-hand school chairs, designer stools, white tiles and splash of yellow work together to create a bright and inviting space to welcome customers as they enter the Albany Street cafe.
Nick has a bit of experience running cafes. He owned Dunedin's infamous Modaks in the early days, currently runs the Dispensary in the Hospital and a roastery slash cafe called Common Ground which is nestled in the Strathallen Estate in South Dunedin. You would think opening the Albany Street cafe would be a breeze, however, Nick admits he still had nerves about opening. He jokes he is only beginning to be able to sleep at night after a successful first week.
At heart of the success of Nick's cafes is the same philosophy and culture that he and his staff have created. This culture is built on trust. The Dispensary is described by Nick as being 'essentially the Subway sandwiches model but quality. It is about creating takeaway food that is 'real.' Coffees and food are served in takeaway cups and containers to be eaten in or had on the run. Trust and quality is communicated to the customer in a number of ways. The food the cafe serves has no preservatives, for example, the pesto, aioli and bread are made daily, wooden cutlery replaces plastic, recylced elements have been used throughout the fitout, all the horizontal surfaces are honest materials; solid oak and ash wood. The food does not try to be something flashy, he says there are no tricks, no cheats and is priced affordably. In order to create something 'real' the business has to be built on a sense of trust and consistency, to achieve a certain 'goodness' throughout everything the cafe does. A large part of what Nick thinks has helped the success his businesses is that he shares the business with his staff, he genuinely values their work and feels that it is important to look after them. The tone is set by the business owners, the staff who run the cafe and is then transferred to customers to ensure they have positive experience at the cafe.
Creating a second Dispensary was a little strange for Nick, he likes his cafes to have their own identities. "There will only ever be two Dispensaries," Nick believes adding more cafes will cheapen the whole thing. However, there was such a strong crossover between the two spaces and what they were trying to achieve that sharing the name just seemed to work. Both of the spaces have slightly different interiors to differentiate one from the other and to cater to the market they each service. At Albany Street customers drink Supreme's Boxer coffee it is punchier than the Hospital's mellower Supreme Blend which caters to a wider market.
The Hospital foyer was a perfect place to open a cafe because there is such a captive market, at the same time this has its challenges, the cafe must ensure it is extrememly consistent, whereas for cafes with a shopfront consistency might not be such an issue. Nick maintains that if you overcome this challenge and maintain consistency the rewards will come. The University and Hospital are two places in the city that have some of the largest number of people passing through their doors everyday. Nick saw an untapped and captive market in each case. When the space in the OUSA Clubs and Socs building became available he knew it was the right environment to create a little goodness. In the past students have been notorious for being tight with their money, choosing to sacrifice spending money on food in order to fund their liquid diets. However, we are in the mist of change, large numbers of students can be seen sipping soy lattes in North Dunedin's cafes, spending time in the gym, buying expensive clothing, choosing to live in more expensive but warmer flats and taking the time to look after themselves. A fundamental lifestyle change is taking place in North Dunedin and a more sophisticated Scarfie is emerging. The perfect timing for a cool now cafe to pop up on campus. Nick is blown away by students spending upwards of $15 daily to escape the library and get lunch and coffee at his cafe.
The eateries on campus tend to have an underlying blandness and lack of any real depth because of their semi-mass produced nature, about time for someone to look at things differently. The Dispensary has taken the opportunity 'to give a shit and put some love' into the food being served up to students. A good deal of foresight and timing has helped the Albany Street Dispensary. The previous tenants were not able to obtain the long-term lease because of the redevelopments that have just been completed on the rest of the OUSA owned building; this hindered their opportunities to make something of their own with the space. With a long term lease Nick has been able to invest in the space, ditch the roller door and create an environment suited to an inviting cafe.
The fit out is brave, each of the elements in the interior have been given space to exist on their own. No architects or designers have been used here, Nick chose to invent the space in his head and this is how he's always done it. It's a terrifying way of being because " you can never know until it's all done," but he is very pleased with this outcome. The shell of the building is stripped back to exposed concrete. The furniture is all hand made in New Zealand and is all small run. Expensive designer stools sit happily next to a set of $60 old wooden school chairs. The interior is done so well it's difficult to tell which are the designer pieces and which were a steal. A particular character has been created by the peered back and cool interior which adds to the theatre of the cafe, placing it at the opposite end of the spectrum to a student flat on a dreary Dunedin day. The Dispensary is a refuge from the stresses of student life for those who are brave enough to cross the road and walk through its doors.
A conscious decision not to advertise the cafe has been made. Nick prefers to focus on a more organic growth and for people's curiousity to lead them in. He believes the longer growth period pays off and creates more valuable customers in the end.
So far it's seems Nick and Jo can do no wrong as the new venture continues to grow and caters to a new breed of Scarfie.
Submitted by Jon Thom
Photography Motion Sickness Studio