We’ve been lucky enough to have the incredible Carmen working with us at Market Lane since 2016. For several years, she was an integral part of our Faraday St, Carlton shop team before she moved over to manage our Collins St, CBD shop.
Our Collins St shop is designed to be a place of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, and Carmen is instrumental in helping to create that atmosphere. Carmen is genuine, present, warm and good-humoured. She cares deeply about her co-workers and her customers, and she has an extraordinary ability to make people feel seen, welcomed and cared for, while intuiting whether they might want to chat about an exciting new coffee arrival, or sit quietly and enjoy a coffee before going about their day.
“Carmen is the most authentic, professional and respectful co-worker,” says James, the manager of our Sydney Rd shop, who worked with Carmen at Faraday St for many years. “Whether it’s her interactions with customers or the way she leads her team, every aspect of her work is considered and thoughtful. I say this as someone who’s worked in hospitality for a long time: Carmen is truly one of a kind.”
We chatted to the amazing Carmen about her history working in coffee and hospitality, the way the city has come back to life after the lockdowns, and how she likes to spend her days off.
Tell us about your journey working in coffee.
My first coffee job was at a cafe in Wellington run by a legend of a woman. At first, I was attracted to how interactive and tactile the style of service was (compared to fine dining), and I liked that coffee shops and coffee are a reasonably accessible experience and product. I was also drawn to the environment and the kind of home that had been created in that particular shop.
Sometime later, I worked at a specialty coffee shop in the UK. In my interview, I was asked to taste a few different options for the next house blend and share my thoughts. I was a little intimidated, but I don't think I'd ever tasted espresso quite so sweet or delicious. So, despite my nerves, I was excited about what I was tasting, and describing the coffee was fun. It was such an exciting time, learning all about specialty coffee, it really drew me in. People in the coffee industry are so generous with their time and knowledge, and there is always something new to learn.
How did you get started at Market Lane?
I had already decided I wanted to work at Market Lane before I moved to Melbourne…luckily, they hired me! I started at Market Lane like we all do, working across all the shops. Then I settled at the very special Faraday St shop for a few years before moving over to manage the beautiful Collins St shop.
The CBD has finally come back to life after the lockdowns! As shop manager at Collins St, what has been your experience of that?
Oh wow, there’s such a contrast. The city has for sure come back to life. Perhaps the working week looks a little different than before all the lockdowns – or at least it did for a while, with Mondays and Fridays being quieter. It’s been so nice to have our service be steady again; to have all our lovely regulars be regular again, and to be able to welcome new faces. It still feels a bit exciting when people who aren't from Melbourne come into the shop.
What’s the most rewarding part of working in hospitality?
I think probably the people you meet – colleagues and people in the industry and in our community. When you work in hospitality, you immediately become a part of the local community and people’s lives. That’s pretty special. I think this is true for coffee particularly, as it’s part of so many folks’ daily routine.
Where/how do you drink coffee when you’re not at work?
My favourite place to enjoy coffee is at home. A pour over because that means it’s the weekend.
How do you like to spend your days off?
I’m studying at the moment, so that’s a lot of my weekend these days. I love to see my niece and nephew and ideally get into something crafty. If and when summer comes, I’ll be at the beach.
Do you have a favourite producer and/or coffee, and why?
All the coffee producers we serve coffee from are so inspiring, and all their coffees are so delicious. Having access to at least six different coffees at any given time means I could never have a favourite, it’s impossible! I do, however, always feel really lucky to be drinking Bolivian coffee. Coffee production in Bolivia is relatively low and has been steadily declining. Farms are small and producers face many challenging factors. Bolivian coffees are so delicious. Sweet, soft but vibrant; super interesting but still very guzzle-able. The Las Alasitas Java, a microlot from the Rodríguez family this year was very, very special.