When Jarrod Briffa and his cofounders started Kinfolk Cafe in 2010, it was with the explicit purpose of enabling positive impact through business. Without any funding from external backers, Jarrod also knew that this purpose would be totally dependant upon the quality of the cafe he was creating. If people did not rate the coffee, they were not going to show-up and spend their cash at a place just because it was doing some good.
From the beginning the odds seemed to be heavily against this idea from ever seeing more than the back of a napkin. For starters, Melbourne has a high bar when it comes to cafes, and cafe patrons feel more loyal to their own taste integrity than any particular place.
Add to that Jarrod’s lack of experience in running a cafe, and no more than $10,000 to spend, how would it possible to get a viable business going, let alone one with the explicit purpose of having a positive social impact?
Six years later and Kinfolk is now in the position of having walked many of the hard yards, refining a business model that should never have worked, and growing into taking over an events business and ready to expand to another cafe. In considering this journey Jarrod reflects on the relative importance of a water-tight business model compared to a strong will and sense of belief. He realises now how unready he was when he first embarked on creating Kinfolk, but also notes that he would never have been ready, and that the fact this came from a place of authenticity and purpose meant that he was able to hang tough when the stumbling blocks came.
The cafe makes great coffee and serves a healthy range of seasonally inspired food, and for many that may be all they see and care about in their cafe of choice. But once you spend a bit of time at Kinfolk it is hard not to notice that something more is happening than just coffee and food. Customers are given a coffee bean after ordering and can choose to put it into a jar to vote for distributing the cafe’s profits to one of the projects Kinfolk support. And while distributing their profits for purpose is amazing, there are actually two further layers to the impact this social enterprise is having.
The first is what Jarrod calls conscious consumption, and this is where the 95% of revenue that doesn’t make it through to the profit margin is assessed to determine how it can best be spent. There are obviously things the business needs to buy in order to operate, but the way these things are purchased are at the discretion of Kinfolk. In this way much of what the cafe purchases also has a positive social impact (see Mark Daniels on Social Procurement).
The second layer is that of the 60 volunteers each week working in the cafe, people whom have identified their need for help, and come to the cafe looking for hospitality skills, skills in gaining employment, or simply want to make friends and become part of a community. Volunteers work in the cafe for anywhere up to 9-12 months, and through a personalised program are trained, mentored, and accepted for who they are. The backgrounds are diverse and often challenging, but at Kinfolk they find a place where they can connect and learn. While the impact of helping transform the lives of the volunteers may be harder to quantify than spending and giving away money, it is this part of Kinfolk’s impact that Jarrod finds most meaningful.
Jarrod dreams about disrupting urban composting one day. He sees the difficulty businesses (and residents) of high density areas in cities have with their organic waste. Recently working in collaboration with neighbouring Savoy Tavern to make use of their Closed-Loop composter, Jarrod wonders whether more businesses and residents could work together to put their organic waste to good use in helping create nutritious soil.
And the subtle thing Jarrod found to have a big impact on his own life was to understand his own relationship with attachment. A pivotal moment for Jarrod was being challenged about whether he would be prepared to give away all he had worked for at Kinfolk. He realised that being attached to anything could not be a positive things, and notices how he can see things for what they are, and love others for who they are, when he releases his attachment to them.
Kinfolk is located at the base of Donkey Wheel House on Bourke St in Melbourne, an amazing building filled with businesses dedicated to having a positive impact through what they do. Jarrod has a calm and assured manner – I hope you enjoy our conversation, and one day get to taste a coffee at Kinfolk.