Bluestone Lane was launched in 2013 with the aim of bringing Melbourne-style café culture to the US. The business’ founder and CEO, Nick Stone, discusses turning customers into locals, fostering community during Covid and the growing opportunities for boutique cafés in the US
Nick Stone, CEO, Bluestone Lane | Photo credit: Bluestone Lane
Taking a leaf out of Melbourne’s world-renowned coffee scene, Bluestone Lane has blazed a trail across New York since 2013 and now operates 60 cafés across the US.
The boutique operator gave many New Yorkers their first taste of Australia’s obsession with quality coffee and sumptuous small plates and has further raised the bar for premium café experiences in the city.
How does coffee culture differ between Australia and the US?
Australia’s coffee culture is centred on independent cafés and coffee shops. In stark comparison, mass coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin’ just don't exist as they do in the US. Instead, Australia fosters a rich and unique development of local café culture. After all, we did invent the best espresso coffee drink in the world: the Flat White!
Historically, Australians adapted to the European espresso culture following World War II, much before espresso made its way in the US (we switched from tea to the introduction of coffee). For this reason, Australians’ sophistication and affinity for espresso culture is among the strongest in the world.
How important has providing a social community connection been since the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020?
I was inspired to create Bluestone Lane because I deeply missed the social connection provided at the local cafés in Australia. I designed the Bluestone Lane customer experience from the perspective of a local like myself who frequents coffee shops for a brief yet comforting respite from the grind of the workday.
Creating an inviting, welcoming atmosphere is just as important as the food and beverages we serve. At a time in human history when everyone is more and more isolated, we are a local business that can really make a positive impact on someone's day through connection. We are truly passionate about being a local neighbourhood human connection hub.
We made the intentional yet difficult decision to remain open in most locations during the pandemic, including several coffee shops and cafés in New York City. While we augmented our service with technology to ensure social distancing and operational efficiency, our team kept the human connection alive by handwriting team messages on coffee cups, bags and on cards. We received a lot of sentiments of gratitude and appreciation from our locals on how much this meant to them. It was so rewarding to see our locations and staff make a meaningful impact by connecting with our customers through genuine, authentic messages.
Throughout Covid-19 we also implemented a ‘Fuel our Heroes’ initiative to donate coffee and food to local hospitals. More than 200,000 cups of coffee were donated to first responders. It was incredible!
One of our more well-known locals (esteemed author, 5-time New York Times bestseller, Malcolm Gladwell) said in an interview back in 2019 that “Bluestone Lane was a force for good, and that we need more brands like them.”
Receiving this high praise from one of the most prolific writers in social behaviour really reinforced our brand as a source for community connection.
“Our growth trajectory has been extremely exciting and motivating for a company as young as ours, and we feel we have a lot of room to grow”
How do you view the success of boutique hospitality/coffee brands in the US?
I can't encourage enough the need for more boutique hospitality coffee brands to emerge in the US. We need to create a kaleidoscope of choice for local communities. It's very challenging with US café culture being heavily dominated by a few big chains, but it's extremely rewarding when done right with a focus on personalised hospitality, quality product and health.
Bluestone Lane launched a compostable Nespresso coffee capsule range in April this year. How does the group’s at-home offering compare to its in-store experience?
While we are super excited to expand our at-home coffee product line, our retail business remains the core priority. That said, we were thrilled with the positive response we have received on our biodegradable Nespresso capsules. At this stage, we look forward to gradually growing our at-home business and are excited about the potential to expand into the grocery channel eventually.
Bluestone Lane recently reached 60 stores in the US, a target it first publicly set out in 2018. What growth does the group plan to achieve in the next four years?
Our growth trajectory has been extremely exciting and motivating for a company as young as ours, and we feel we have a lot of room to grow. We continue to pursue expansion opportunities in both current and new markets.
We're excited to announce a national partnership with Hilton Hotels, as well as new cafés opening in major travel hubs, including JFK International, LaGuardia, and Boston Logan International airports.