CUBIC: Putting George Street on the Specialty Coffee Map

“You have to be really crazy to want to open up a cafe if you’ve never done it before,” Richard laughs.

I agree that it must take at least a pinch of insanity to do that, especially during the height of a pandemic. But as a business that prides itself on quality and teaching its customers what lies beyond the humble flat white, it’s clear why there’s a heap of loyal customers and plenty of newcomers every day. 

“I think that’s why we’re really here. To show people that there’s more to coffee than what they might know.

At CUBIC there’s a changing selection of batch brews (at least two per day), cold brews, nitro coffee (and tea), various single origin espressos, fresh chai, matcha; this place exists to take people on a journey of flavour. While a lot does revolve around taste, Richard does try to keep his coffee selections local with popular roasters like Parallel or Almanac, or at the very least interstate with roasters like Zest (Melbourne) and Ona Coffee (Canberra).

Sitting down to speak with Richard, he has plenty to say. And it’s not because he likes the sound of his own voice; I think he has a lot of drive, passion and creativity within that is always seeking an outlet.

It’s Saturday so the shop is closed; oddly peaceful without George Street’s workers flocking here as they do in the week. We’re sitting in the backroom surrounded by giant monstera plants, framed by warm concrete walls and light timber cladding. Every inch of this space has been carefully considered by Richard – the design, branding, structure, machinery, staff, food, drink, interiors. It’s a lot for just one person and he knows it: “I’ve put pretty much everything I own into this business. All my savings, my time, everything.” He even has photography equipment set up this morning to do in-house product shots after this interview.

– jump to our film below –

“I had to prove to myself that I could do it alone,” he tells me, indicating that his departure from Adelaide was a considered move. “If I did this in South Australia I would’ve had too much support, not that it’s a bad thing, but it would’ve felt like 50% of the work would’ve been done for me.” With a strong network of industry support in Adelaide, it seems the logical thing would have been to open CUBIC there rather than in this often overlooked part of the city.

“I think I set up at the right time in the middle of Covid – it was hard from a financial perspective but from a time perspective it was good,” he says. “We had time to make the mistakes we needed to at a time when it wasn’t going to impact the business too much. The first week was actually one of the hardest. All my equipment broke down. After having to do so much to the space already; the plumbing was fucked – excuse my language – the electricals had to be redone, the layout, the floors – so much. And then everything started breaking down. I was like Jesus Christ, please give me a break! I was not prepared for that.”

Then there were the lockdowns, mask mandates, work from home orders, the floods. “I always look at things from the worst case scenario and that way when it happens I’m not surprised,” he says. “After so many ups and downs I sort of got used to it. Whenever things went bad it always picked up again.”

There’s an unquestionable tenacity here; it can’t be easy pouring your heart and soul into a business like this. Then there’s striking that balance between business and family.

“We don’t put up prices to get rich, we put up prices so that we can survive.”

“I love this business, it’s my baby, but over everything my daughter and my wife will always be my priority,” he says. “I have to see my daughter grow, I have to spend time with my wife to nurture our relationship. And this is why I have my family day, which is entirely dedicated to us and I completely switch off from the shop – I don’t think about it at all.”

His daughter Amelie makes brief appearances in the shop, usually on the way to daycare. This frees up some time for his wife Akiko to help out a couple of days a week, filling the food cabinet with various treats that she bakes in-house. I’m currently nibbling on a gluten-free orange chocolate brownie and sipping on a Rwandan batch brew from Ona Coffee; everything here is focused on flavour.

With names like Raspberry Candy, tasting notes like ‘black cherry, liquorice, dark chocolate’, fruit-infused coffee beans, cold brews bursting with deep and complex flavours, CUBIC (like its owner) has a lot to say and a lot to teach.

Join us on our discovery of CUBIC’s offering and operation below:

Richard tells me he loves to share knowledge: “I think that’s why we’re really here. To show people that there’s more to coffee than what they might know. As an industry, we’ve come a really long way from what coffee was ten years ago. We’re incorporating aspects of wine making and fermentation and applying it to coffee. The potential is endless. So many doors and avenues have opened.”

The landscape of specialty coffee is exciting but remains unpredictable, particularly with the advent of recent price increases. When questioned on this, Richard remains steadfast to the values of his business. 

“We don’t put up prices to get rich, we put up prices so that we can survive,” he says. “You don’t see me out there driving a Ferrari. And my goal isn’t to serve coffee to the masses. It’s to serve coffee to those who appreciate the extra level of care, attention and expertise that goes into their cup.” 

“It’s what’s necessary if you’re a business like us that isn’t going to cut corners and are dedicated to paying our staff well, invest time in training, pay for the maintenance of the equipment and all the things necessary for being consistent. There are all these costs and more that I have to try and get out of a $5 cup of coffee that people just don’t think about.”

Richard is so committed to quality and consistency that he even tells me he would sell his business if it ever got to the point where managing those elements became impossible. I can’t poke holes in his vision or see cracks in his values. What I can see (and taste) is something very exciting from a fledgling institution of Brisbane’s growing specialty coffee scene.

It’s safe to say that CUBIC is fast becoming a magnet for the discerning but also an academy for the curious.

Discover more about CUBIC here.

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