Our Sydney Rd shop manager James is beloved by many members of our community, and for very good reason – his warmth, care and attention to detail are extraordinary. He has worked in hospitality for 20 years, and we're lucky that nine of those years have been spent helping create welcoming shop spaces and brewing beautiful coffees at Market Lane.
James managed our Faraday St, Carlton shop for six years before moving to our Sydney Rd shop in 2023. "There are people who work in hospitality, and then there are people like James, who live it," says Market Lane co-owner, Jenni. "Working with him is a joy. Exceptional customer service isn’t second nature to James – it is his nature!"
James generously chatted to us about his history with hospitality and Market Lane, his approach to customer service, his favourite way to enjoy coffee, and his top spots to visit around our Brunswick shop.
Market Lane Coffee: How many years have you been working in hospitality? What drew you to the field?
James: I've been working in hospitality/retail for nearly 20 years now. I spent my teens living in the Hunter Valley, NSW, surrounded by world-class hotels, restaurants and wineries, so at first it was a no-brainer – everything was at my doorstep. Then after landing my first job working at a cellar door and also casually at a high-end cafe, I was mentored by some wonderful people and exposed to an industry that I felt reflected my personality naturally.
How did you get started at Market Lane?
I was a regular customer at the then-Therry St store, and was then lucky enough to have a location open in Carlton where I was living. I ended up getting a job at Market Lane and managing the Carlton store for six years, so it was a bit of a full-circle moment. Faraday St, and Carlton in general, will always hold a special place in my heart.
I initially applied for a job at Market Lane because I wanted to specialise in coffee-making. I had been making coffee for my entire career and I always enjoyed it. Little did I know how much of a purpose-driven company it was, and that's a major reason why I've stayed for so long.
What are your favourite things about working in coffee?
Coffee culture in Melbourne is ingrained in our DNA, so I feel there is a natural respect and interest in the subject. Getting to know our customers and community is a big part of why I work in coffee. Having worked at Market Lane for the better part of a decade, year after year there are new innovations and advancements coming from our producing partners, and there's always something new to learn.
Do you have a favourite producer or coffee?
This is a hard one, partly because I am lucky enough to taste so much delicious coffee on a daily basis. I love coffee from Colombia and Ethiopia. Notably, Jigesa from Guji in Ethiopia is a favourite, purely because of its vibrant and distinctive flavour in the cup. I'm a black coffee drinker, so a naturally processed Ethiopian as a long black would be my coffee of choice.
You provide such outstanding customer service. What’s your approach to it?
Striving to create a positive and respectful environment plays a huge part in my approach to customer service. I've always imagined how I would like to be treated as a customer – I think this is a really great reflection tool for when you're out and about, and it’s served me well over the years.
Also, trust your instincts and listen. Quite often, you can go above and beyond just by noticing subtleties in an interaction and delighting a customer when they least expect it.
How do you like to spend your days off?
Days off are spent visiting galleries, museums and maybe doing a bit of shopping. Sunday usually starts with a pour over coffee in bed and breakfast out locally if it's not too cold, followed by a pub lunch or a day trip to Kyneton or further to explore! Mondays are usually spent in the studio. Aside from Market Lane, I have a small fashion business, where I make clothes to order, specialising in soft tailoring and workwear. I’ve been doing this for about five years now.
What are your favourite spots to visit around the Sydney Rd shop?
I'm lucky enough to live and now work in Brunswick. My favourite places around the shop are our neighbours, Blackhearts & Sparrows wine shop, Mediterranean Wholesalers, Good Days (very excited for their new Banh Mi shop opening soon), Gelateria Bico, Wild Life Superette, Brunswick Wine Shop, Lunar by Hikari, Juanita Peaches/All Day Donuts…and the list goes on! We are truly spoiled for choice in our wonderful neighbourhood.