Lisa Cathro - Zest

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

Owner – Zest – Coffee shop and Authorised SCA Trainer - St Andrews 

What got you into coffee?

Lisa started running a coffee shop by accident in 2008. She had no plan or experience owning a business and just “had to learn by my mistakes…rookie errors of cheap beans and equipment!”
Lisa had lived in Melbourne and knew that her shop wasn’t serving coffee in the same realm. “But I didn’t have the knowledge to know why or how to get to great coffee. I ended up in specialty coffee after finding that my usual supplier training just wasn’t to a high enough level…then I found the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and have never looked back.”

Lisa and a colleague went to Holland and did their Intermediate Barista Skills training which is where she tasted coffee again like she’d had in Melbourne. “Then I was hooked on learning, and went on to do Professional accreditation and become an Authorised SCA Trainer.”

When she came back Lisa started sourcing delicious Specialty Grade beans, began retraining her whole team and “things really developed and took off from there.  This was a revelation and my turning point.  My team are still very excited by coffee and learning, in fact we are struggling to keep up and they are doing such a great job every day, especially when learning may not come that easily to some of the team.”

What do you love about being specialty coffee?

Lisa has set up Zest to be a coffee shop and a social enterprise. “We work with people with additional support or education needs.  I love that hospitality and coffee can teach people about geography, maths, customer service, people skills, appropriate behaviour and science. Maths is a core skill that a lot of people hate at school but when you’re doing brew ratios because you love coffee, you’re learning maths without realising. Same with cashing up the till. You can use coffee to teach all these really core skills to people who hated them or didn’t get schooling. When they leave us they can make coffee but they can also take all those transferrable skills with them to work anywhere.”

Lisa also talks about the value customers get when they meet those people, see them develop over a few weeks/months/years and “actually see the massive impact on a person’s life of having purposeful employment instead of a possible tiny donation going to a country on the other side of the world. This is more personal, and I love that. I love our customers who actively get involved by welcoming new trainees, making them feel comfortable when they are anxious and just by making an effort to help. I think we are lucky to have the customers that we do.”

Lisa currently employs a young man who is on the autistic spectrum. “He has been with us for three years and completed the Foundation SCA Barista course. We also have two young women who have learning difficulties. We couldn’t do without them on the hugely busy days, they always give 100%.” 
As a consequence, the Zest team is very close and attracts and retains social-minded people. “It’s more like a family. Yes, we have our squabbles, but it’s over by the next day.”

“I also love the community. It doesn’t matter where you go, you usually meet someone you know or who are like-minded. You end up with friends all over the place. Most people are friendly and everyone shares a common passion. Most people in speciality coffee are in it for ethical reasons - they’re value-driven. I don’t know anyone who got into specialty coffee to make a quick buck.”

Zest shop doors with logo

What would tell someone who was considering a career in coffee?

“Have fun, ask questions, don’t get stuck with one coffee, get out and try different beans and roasters. We have some amazing Roasters in Scotland use them! Don’t be stuck in one place. A lot of people do things very, very differently. Don’t assume that where you are now is the same everywhere. Learn different things from different people. Change jobs, change towns, change roles, try new things.”

What’s it like being a woman in the coffee industry?

On a day-to-day basis Lisa says she doesn’t notice much of a difference between how women and men a treated in the local specialty coffee industry. 

“It hadn’t crossed my mind really. Everyone’s quite open. The only time I’ve noticed a difference is in higher level, business strategy where I’ve experienced mansplaining. When I’m talking about my business and someone with less experience tells me how to do it … but that’s life. 

Men are probably more attracted to the chemistry, brew ratios, variables. A lot of women used to be steered away from that side of things but now it’s different.

I never worked in a coffee bar before Zest and ended up owning a café which was my first experience in working in coffee. I didn’t have to work under anyone else in coffee before creating my own business and shaped how I wanted things to be done.”

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

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