Consistency key to Replete's longevity

TOP STOP: Owner Chris Johnston outside Taupo’s Replete Cafe.
TOP STOP: Owner Chris Johnston outside Taupo’s Replete Cafe.

Replete cafe owner Chris Johnston realised from day two of opening he would need to change focus.

"We set out to provide a place for a quick bite and a coffee, along the lines of European cafes where people would stand up, have their coffee before heading off to work."

To fit the theme Johnston had eight David Trubridge handcrafted stools made.

But it was clear after the first day customers liked to sit.

"By day two we understood people were not that keen to stand up like the French.

"They preferred to have their coffee sitting down instead so we went out and bought more seats."

Twenty years on the Trubridge-designed stools are still being used, and Replete Cafe has racked up an array of awards for food and service.

Last month it won the Cafe Magazine title for best central North Island cafe, the eighth time in 15 years.

In May the cafe will celebrate two decades in Taupo - something Johnston never imagined when he took up a part-time job 25 years ago at The Deli in Auckland before heading to Europe.

Johnston runs Replete, which also includes a kitchenware retail outlet, with his wife Kathy, and is part-owner of Plateau Restaurant, and Eat Catering.

About 50 staff are employed across the three businesses, making it a significant employer in the town.

Annual turnover for the cafe alone is about $1.5 million.

Staff wages at Replete account for around $500,000 a year.

Over the past 20 years nearly 500 staff have made coffee, and cooked or waited on customers.

Consistency has been the key to the cafe's longevity, he said. The Millers coffee roast has not altered in 20 years, nor has one of the cafe's best sellers -bacon and egg pie - been taken off the menu.

On busy weekdays staff can be serving between 500 and 600 customers from full breakfasts to a light lunch to a soy flat white.

On holiday weekends the numbers can treble.

"It gets incredibly busy some days, especially on weekends when events are being held. Being an event town, and a tourist destination, we get troughs and peaks through the day and the week.

"There's nothing worse than getting smoked on a busy day.

"The customer always comes first and we have systems set up to handle large volumes without compromising. The skill is to have the systems in place to smooth the process."

Johnston said he had learnt to read body language whether customers were waiting, or had their order taken.

But like any small business it was difficult to predict what will happen months ahead, he said.

"It's become a lot tighter in the past years for small businesses to maintain the same margins and achieve the same outcomes."

The business had a 20 per cent downturn last winter during a council street upgrade, he said.

Ironically Johnston, a district councillor, had voted for the $1 million upgrade.

After more than two decades in hospitality it was the long-term results that counted, he said.

"We try to look at the big picture. Our customers may not come back to Taupo for 12 months, or 10 years. When they do we want them to have the same quality experience that they had before.

"You need to watch any changes, and be prepared to adapt."