Being in the coffee business for some time now, Rahul Leekha has evolved with the industry and most importantly he loves to serve people. For Rahul, coffee is a very complex category. Altitude, temperature, rains, soil conditions, brewing methods, etc. all factor makes one perfect ‘cuppa joe’. Once he started digging deeper, he learned that just like wine, coffee too has different tasting notes and is growingly accepted as a lifestyle beverage. Globally, coffee is the second-highest beverage consumed after water. Being a Director of Coffee By Di Bella, Rahul is passionate about scouting for the most premium beans grown globally. Coffee By Di Bella is an Australia’s premier coffee chain and is known for being one of the fastest-growing and profitable coffee chains in India with a footprint of 25 physical stores in Mumbai.
At Coffee By Di Bella, they are known for roasting & blending award-winning coffees. They are a byproduct of their 15+ years of travel & the pursuit of knowledge gained from across the world’s most renowned coffee plantations combined that with their in-house expertise that inspires passion into every batch they roast. Recently, they have also bagged the Aero Press Championship thus proving that they serve one of the best cups of coffee in the country!
Here are a few excerpts from the interview where Rahul speaks about his journey with HelloPost Team:
When did you think to transform your passion into your core business?
India is a growing economy with an ever-growing middle class of people that are global citizens- well-traveled, socially educated and aware of the options available in the market. These consumers will not hesitate to pay for quality. Caffeine is a worldwide phenomenon that has stood its ground even when the aerated business was hit. Large corporations see the value in backing the coffee markets as a Cappuccino is rarer to come by than a chai- it’s available at home, for free. It is not just about the caffeine fix, it’s also the conversation and lifestyle that goes with it. At this stage, the Indian market was a melting pot of opportunities; more so for me- I got to convert my passion into a successful and renowned company.
How did you transform your passion into your career?
Di Bella is one of Australia’s largest specialty coffee roasters, serving over 5 million cups a week. Australia’s coffee drinking is so well ingrained into their culture that no one makes a bad cup of coffee there! The next natural step would be to learn from the masters themselves so it made sense for Di Bella to lead the way here as well. The founder, Phillip Di Bella is a very passionate entrepreneur and has always shown great commitment to quality and service, I saw commonality in our thought processes and took the leap.
Were there any difficulties in transforming it? How did you overcome that and what advice would you give others in your situation?
India is still at a nascent coffee drinking phase which is growing at a steady pace. Our same-store year on year coffee consumption has grown by 25% which is a good indicator of growing consumption and acceptability.
However, we have a much bigger vision. We want our consumers to be educated about coffee and find their perfect brew. Coffee goes way beyond the Cappuccino and Lattes that we have grown accustomed to and consume endlessly. Every type has a unique grind size, method & technique. One way of doing this is the customized crockery with each beverage. For example- we serve our Latte’s in a mug with a warmer/tea light candle below it as the quantity of milk is higher in a latte and the temperature of the beverage is maintained. We have also introduced a Specialty coffee menu with different brewing techniques such as the Syphon, Chemex, Pour Over, Nitro Coffee, Cold Brew, etc. which to our pleasant surprise is doing phenomenally well. These are also good indicators of the Indian consumer being inquisitive and the desire towards drinking the best cup of coffee.
The advice I would give is, first develop an honest product, then commit to serving it consistently. This develops consumer trust and that facilitates loyalty which feeds into the brand image. What we show in our Marketing/ Advertising is exactly what we serve in our stores.
As an entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you?
We cater to an audience right from a 1-year-old to 80-year-olds. It is an amazing feeling to be able to cater to such a large audience. A café is a place between one’s home & work; the only place one can wind down without any restrictions on timing, attire, etc. this drives me to keep innovating for the 80% of our regular patrons we serve. It’s never a dull day in Coffee By Di Bella when our customers are treated with a range of new products such as Waffles, Freakshakes, Gold & Diamond cappuccino (not to mention the insta-worthy posts that break the internet ever so often!)
In one word, describe your life as an entrepreneur.
Who inspires you?
Phillip Di Bella, an immigrant’s son who moved to Australia with $500 and went on to build one of the country’s largest coffee companies. With sheer hard work & dedication, Phillip proved that if you are honest with the product, it is sure to succeed.
What lessons did you learn while transforming your passion into your core business?
Firstly, Grow sensibly. A major reason for our consistent growth is that we stuck to what we do best in a very structured manner, opening stores is automated for us now but we’ve stuck to a sustainable ‘one city one market’ model which not only helps us give top-notch service but also maintain profitability.
Secondly, keep a close eye on the bottom line. All our stores operationally break-even within 3 months, we have opened 24 stores in the last 24 months. We only open the next one once the previous store breaks even.
What are your future plans?
We are currently at 25 company-owned stores in Mumbai and growing at a rate of 1 store per month. We are targeting 150 stores pan India within the next 3 years.
We have recently launched our Bean to Cup vending machines business with the launch at a premium retail banking branch of an International Bank. We will soon be serving coffees across high-end retail stores, board rooms & premium car showrooms.
Any tips for others who want to transform their passion into their career.
Get emotionally attached to what you want to do but only to an extent where it is not running on just emotions.