We're proud as punch to have had some exceptional individuals work here at Supreme, especially when they move on to new ventures in which we can still play a small part — one of those individuals being the one and only, Tom Cooney.
After wrapping up a nine-year stint leading our Queensland operations, we're lucky Tom hasn't gone far. Tom has always been a man of many hats and side hustles (he also co-owns Anytime and Hai Hai), and following the success of Riser, a bread subscription service, it was only a matter of time before they found a permanent space.
In between juggling multiple businesses and welcoming his first child, we caught up with Tom for a bit of a debrief on opening Riser post-Covid, the challenges that he faced and his best piece of advice for anyone wanting to open their own site.
Q: Hey Tom, tell us a bit about Riser. Is it something you always wanted to do? When did you open? Give us the full rundown.
Riser is a suburban bakery cafe with a love of unrefined beauty. Everything from our space, to our service and product is considered - we want everyone to feel at home at Riser. Duncan McKay (head baker) decided he wanted to start a bakery cafe about 6 years ago - a dream he shared with me and we edged towards it. Once Kieran Ryan (Baker and jack of every single trade) got involved about 3 years ago, we started the search for a space. Kieran and Duncan developed a bread subscription service at the start of Covid, which was great for getting our name out there and to make the most of a terrible time. Covid in Brisbane also brought the challenge of an influx of people fleeing the south! We couldn’t find a place to rent because every good warehouse became a crossfit gym or an accountancy firm. Prices went through the roof. We either wanted a basic warehouse or an old character building, and none were available that weren’t in a flood zone (yeah, don’t forget the floods).
After 2 years of searching, we finally found our new home in mid-2021. We took over an old fine-dining restaurant and converted the kitchen to a bakery. We opened up the wall of the kitchen to have the bakery flow into the service area. We had bread and coffee covered, then we were lucky that our friend Kirsty Hustwick (pastry chef) was looking for a job, which rounded out our offering perfectly.
People have traditionally left Brisbane for greener pastures - I have always thought it much more fulfilling to work on creating great experiences, spaces and communities in Brisbane. I’ve always wanted to open something like Riser, but it would never have been possible without the combination of our team coming together.
We opened in November last year and have been amazed by the response.
Q: Since opening, what’s been the biggest road bump? And how’re you overcoming it?
Production capacity. We set up a space that can accommodate a lot of customers in a short amount of time but managing to make enough food for everyone is a challenge. We are dealing with it in terms of training new staff members, adding new menu items that might stretch demand later into the day, new equipment and adjusting production schedules.
Q: I know they say, better the devil you know, but how does it feel being on the other side?
After years of working in wholesale, your focus is on giving customers (cafes) a seamless experience in terms of product and equipment. They should never feel uncertain about the main product that underpins their business. There is often a very technical focus - from coffee roasting to proper extraction, training, workflow, machinery and timely delivery. On the cafe/hospo side, the sheer quantity of sales means your amount of interactions a day is significantly increased. Every single customer matters as much as the last, and when there are hundreds of customers each day you need to be very generous with your energy. It is definitely more emotionally taxing, as well as being incredibly rewarding.
Q: What’s a piece of advice that no one gave you, but you wished they had?
Buy more cutlery for the tables. 3 times what you think you will need. By the time your place has been full for 2 hours, if there are 50 knives dirty at tables and then another 50 being washed, you need 50 more clean and ready to go! This goes for anything service related, really. Spending a little bit more money for anything you might run low on in service pays off in customer and staff happiness tenfold.
Q: What’s on the horizon for you and Riser this year?
We have hired a wonderful chef and will be offering some lunch items. We will look to do some pizza nights in winter and we will be opening on Wednesdays (currently only Thursday - Sunday).
Q: Lastly, is there anything you’d like to add?
The timing of finally signing the lease for Riser and the arrival of our baby boy, Avery, meant it has been the most intense year of my life. I left my job to start a new business - this is generally enough change to deal with. Throw in a baby and you get to see what you’re really made of! Having said that - I have been incredibly lucky to have my partner in life, Amy Lehpamer, be so supportive by my side. I also could not ask for a better team at Riser - we are truly lucky.
In terms of business advice. Be confident, ambitious and plan for success. Be clear about who you are and who you want to appeal to. Of course, you also need experience for this. Either hire experienced people or go and get some for a few years before you embark.