Jeff Kennedy and Bridget Dunn are the owners of Acme & Co, the New Zealand based specialty coffee cup brand that you see all over the globes in many of the world’s very best cafes. Acme & Co is also the cup sponsor of Coffee Masters, London 2017. We sat down with Jeff and Bridget to find out more about the brand and their lives in the hospitality business.
It says on the Acme website that you founded Acme as a result of your ‘long-standing ambition to create the cups you’d always wanted.’ Can you elaborate?
Jeff: Bridget and I were co-owners in a coffee company and we imported all the things that supported café coffee – espresso machines, grinders and… Italian ceramic cups.
Bridget: The brand was the best on the market at the time. We imported lots of them and they ended up in just about every café in the country. But they were only in white and brown, and the handles were quite hard to get one’s fingers in. Especially the demitasse!
Jeff: We also found that our back store room was full of saucers as you couldn’t just buy the cup. So we introduced new designs, made a universal saucer for three cup styles that was sold separately, and added to the colour range.
Bridget: A whole lot of little things that made Acme nicer to hold, easier to deal with and more versatile.
Jeff: The Italian company went out of a business about a year after we started Acme. So we ended up growing even more rapidly than we anticipated in New Zealand.
Why does New Zealand serve as ‘the perfect test market for the design and durability of the Acme cup range?’
Bridget: New Zealand has a small population with only 5 million people in a country that’s similarly sized to Great Britain or Japan. However, it’s completely café and espresso-centric. No one functions without their morning flat white. They’re obsessive about their favourite cafes. And everyone has an opinion about what’s good.
Jeff: We also knew almost everyone in the coffee industry here. People who ran very busy cafes where the cups were getting a thrashing. The feedback was rigorous, candid and forthcoming. And we were quick to act where their suggestions made sense.
Bridget: By the time we went international, the cups were fine tuned and well supported.
How did you approach international growth?
Jeff: Very straight forward, we went to our friends who had started coffee companies overseas.
Bridget: It’s said that there are 1 million New Zealanders abroad at any time. We used the kiwi coffee network.
Jeff: Our two first international distributors were in Melbourne and London which also happened to be the two cities leading the specialty coffee movement.
Bridget: Coffee Supreme in Melbourne and Caravan Coffee Roasters in London were instrumental in our success. Their early support of our cups meant that we were seen in a number of very influential cafes.
Can you tell us more about Prefab, your 180 seater flagship café for Acme?
Bridget: When we sold the coffee company we owned we also sold the café that was at it’s core. I missed the interaction with my customers, there’s simply nothing better than what unfolds over a cup of coffee.
Jeff: Coffee is a social catalyst and the café is at its core. Bridget wanted a little espresso bar open in the mornings – I’d roast the beans and she would make coffee. Then we’d fulfill cup orders in the afternoon.
Bridget: Yes, that is what I wanted. And now there’s an event space where we used to store the cups and we have the biggest café in Wellington and over seventy-five staff.
What inspires the colour pallette of the cups and saucers?
Jeff: The grey is our most popular colour. I painted my VW Kombi the same colour. It’s the tone that makes it good. It has warmth to it, like the colour of a dolphin.
Bridget: The blue came from the masthead of a design magazine. There’s a lot of different inspiration to the colours, but tonally we make sure they look like a family.
What’s your average day like?
Bridget: I’m at work at 5am, we have to be well prepared as we’re open and busy at 7am with most of our regular customers already seated in their favourite spot and patiently waiting for it to begin.
Jeff: I roast coffee every morning and the roasting area has a bar around it. I’ll chat to customers as I roast. It’s the best research you’ll ever do.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
Bridget: As a host you have the power to transform and enhance a person’s day. If a customer comes in in a bad mood, you can restore their day. Food, coffee and good surroundings are powerful things.
And your least favourite?
Jeff: We had quite a break from doing what we do after we sold our last coffee company. We missed it. You won’t hear us complain about any aspect of it.
If you could serve any coffee in the world in an Acme cup, what would it be and why?
Bridget: Anything Jeff is roasting. He’s constantly tweaking the blend, the roast profile. Always on the pursuit to make it better.
Jeff: I know that the kids who run Acme & Co day to day are keen on lighter roasted African coffees. That’s why we’re introducing new cup styles that suit more delicate coffees.
Acme is creating the official Coffee Masters London cups and cupping bowls for 2017. What excites you most about the competition? Why did you want to get involved?
Jeff: We like the multidisciplinary aspect to the competition. While so many Championship events focus on only one brewing device we like that this takes an all rounder.
Bridget: It’s also much more audience friendly than some other competitions. We should never forget who we’re here for!
Ensure you’re part of the Coffee Masters, London 2017 audience by buying your London Coffee Festival ticket now.