The Melbourne coffee and food scene is a difficult market to navigate, let alone conquer. However, CEO and entrepreneur Salvatore Malatesta has managed to not just endure in this often fickle market, but create an empire encompassing a roastery, education centre, online store and a family of successful cafes.
All this grew from humble beginnings in the Melbourne University student canteen. In 1996 Salvatore was studying Law and despaired at the lack of good coffee to fuel his fellow undergrads. So he opened his first café, aptly named Caffeine, with just $18,000 of his own money.
The St. Ali brand began in 2005 with a small cafe in South Melbourne. After early success, Salvatore crossed the pond to open a London cafe in 2009. Since 2014, St. Ali has toured the world with pop-ups and masterclasses in Seoul, Milan, Jakarta, and London, and now has grand plans to take on the US market.
We spoke with Salvatore about how he sets goals, maintains his focus and the importance of having a great team.
What is your current role in your business?
I am the spiritual mentor/cheerleader for 270 staff. I work with a bunch of people that excel in so many ways.
But I used to be ‘The Coffee Guy’ exclusively.
Tell us about your goal setting process?
We have a leadership group which includes our team as well as external parties who we invite to retreats that work as an ‘ideas lab’.
Our main goal setting process is based off a one-page plan for all our team that lists where we want to be in 12 months, 3 years and 5 years. At our retreats, we pull apart what we want to do, what we’re working on and why we’re doing it. We collectively wear a ‘negative hat’ and pull the idea apart so see why it might not work. We then wear a ‘positive hat’ and try to figure out how to make it work.
What do you do when you hit a roadblock or things aren’t going right?
We’ve had it really good for such a long time which has been very fortunate. Before we started hosting retreats with our team, decisions were purely based on my my intuition and gut feeling.
We now put my gut feeling and intuition through a feasibility model. If the feasibility model shows the idea as a no-go but I still feel very strongly about it, I’ll still do it. In most cases when I’ve given it that extra push it has worked.
What are your top 3 secrets of success?
1) I never have a sleepless night: sleep allows me to rejuvenate.
2) I have a very strong ability to compartmentalise. If you are unable to do this, you’ll always be shifting your focus.
3) I always plan my exit before my entry. I like to know where I’m heading and if I feel like we can’t get there and we need to pull the parachute, I want to know we have a parachute.
What inspires and motivates you?
For me, personally, I get excited by securing the deal. When you put together a bunch of ideas and they work, it’s that creative output that drives me.
What are some of your favourite quotes or sayings?
1. It’s perfectly reasonable to be unreasonable to achieve greatness
2. Fight mediocrity.
3. It’s healthy to be paranoid.
Is there any tool, tech or app that are you loving right now?
I find that being part of organisations that encourage thinking (like think tanks) are a great way to keep you on track. A lot of people within the same industry face the same problems so it’s good to have someone experiencing the same things as you to bounce off.
Interview by Bianka Velevska