Hi Joel. Tell us how your café, Mr Intolerable’s, came about?
Around three years ago, my doctor decided to test me for food intolerances, as I was having a lot of medical problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, muscle and joint problems, weight issues, stomach complaints, as well as being tired all of the time. These tests showed I have over 100 foods that my body can’t digest, including a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, juices and gluten. It was a big shock to eliminate all of these foods from my diet and for a long time, I struggled to find tasty food that I could eat.
Based on this, I decided to write a cook book designed to cater for a range of food intolerances, to help other people in the same situation. As I was getting ready to release it, I lost my job, which I’d had for over 20 years and decided to turn Mr Intolerable’s into a business and work for myself. I did local markets for over a year to build brand awareness and assess the need for what we offer. Earlier this year, we decided to take the big step and open our first café on Harbour Drive.
We’ve now been open for seven weeks and we’re getting lots of great feedback, as there aren’t many places that provide fresh, tasty food that also accommodates food intolerances.
What’s your connection to the Coffs Coast?
My parents actually moved here in October 2015. I helped them move up and liked the area, so decided I would do markets throughout January 2016 and test the business before I set it up in Melbourne, where I had been living. However, within a few weeks I had fallen in love with the Coffs Coast – the beaches are fantastic. I love hiking in the rainforest, and the weather is certainly a lot better than Melbourne! But on top of that, I found the locals here were awesome. It’s great living in a place where people care for and support each other, and there is a strong community vibe here.
What are you most excited about with your new business?
I think the most exciting part of my day is experimenting with foods and flavours to create food that people love. Every day I find myself clearing plates and bowls that have pretty much been licked clean. Seeing that and hearing my customers tell me how much they enjoyed their lunch is humbling and keeps me excited about what I do.
What can customers expect to experience visiting Mr Intolerable’s?
You can definitely expect a warm welcome and a friendly environment where you can relax. On top of that, you can expect some amazing food which is made from local produce as much as possible – we support a heap of local businesses, including Russell’s Prime Quality Meats, Fresco, Oma’s Gluten Free and Dark Arts Coffee Academy. We’re proud of our love for local and think the produce from the Coffs Coast is some of the best we’ve found across three states.
What have been the most important aspects of setting up your business?
There have been so many! I think doing the markets for a year was vital. I learnt the importance of getting food out quickly – something that is key for us now during the lunch rush. I also learnt about consistency and making sure the food you get today tastes the same tomorrow, next week and next year. We also built up a large customer base and had brand recognition when we opened the shop.
I also spent a lot of time designing the shop to create an environment that looks nice, is inviting and allows you to relax. Work and life in general are pretty busy, so I wanted our shop to promote some “chill time”, while you enjoyed some great food.
Finally, and probably one of the most important aspects, was finding great suppliers. For example, I have probably tried 100 cuts of meat from 40 different supermarkets and butchers, before finding the quality and taste I was after from Russell at Park Beach. Without the quality and consistency I get from local suppliers, I doubt I would have the business I have today.
How has social media played a role in your business so far?
We love using social media and have found Facebook to be a key marketing tool for us. We can create targeted advertisements that are only shown to people close to our shop, as well as advertisements that are shown to a large geographical area, but also only to people who are interested in food intolerances. This allows us to get our message out to people who are interested in what we do, and it doesn’t cost and arm and leg to do it on Facebook. The results from our social media campaigns are always great, and I still can’t believe how much our Facebook page has taken off, especially since we opened the café.
Have you come across any challenges so far?
Our biggest challenge is ensuring we make enough food to meet demand – it’s a real challenge to predict what people will want to buy from day to day, but this will get easier as we get sales history behind us.
What motivates you?
I love cooking, which certainly helps with the 5am weekday starts, but I think my biggest motivation is seeing and hearing customers’ reactions when they’ve finished their meal. Some of our dishes are cooked for five or six hours to really develop the flavours, and you can certainly taste the difference. Seeing empty plates coming back and reading customer reviews on our Facebook page are the highlight of my day.
Tell us about your future plans for Mr Intolerable’s?
We will increase our trading hours at the current shop over the next year and would like to do breakfasts and then expand to dinner. After that, we’d love to look at opening other stores across Australia as from what we can see, no one does what we do. People are sick of mass-produced, bland food, so we see a real gap in the market and think our product addresses this, not to mention the lack of food options that address intolerances.
What fun and interesting things do you get up to in your spare time?
I have a two-year-old whippet who is full of beans and demands a lot of my attention when I get home from work. So when I am not chasing him around the yard, I love spending time at the beach or up in the rainforest. It’s pretty important for me to take time out from the shop, and I love having such awesome places to explore in close proximity to where I live. One of the benefits of having a big work van is that I can quickly turn the inside into a camper and have been doing that a bit recently and heading off to explore other parts of the coast, with the dog of course!