Visiting Massimo and his staff at Caffe Bambino is like going on holiday. Massimo’s dedication to serving only the finest Italian coffee makes you feel like you travelled half-way across the world on your lunchbreak. In addition to premium products, Patrons frequent Caffe Bambino for the relaxing atmosphere as they sit outside in the fresh air and enjoy their own little piece of Italy.
The Italian scooter parked outside the shop’s entrance and the red colour scheme create an ambience truly reminiscent of Europe, instantly transporting patrons from Melbourne to the cobblestone streets of Lo Stivale (Italian for “The Boot”, paying homage to the country’s geographical shape).
What struck me when I first stepped foot into Caffe Bambino was its rather small size. The café’s petite, yet intimate structure creates a cosy environment that instantly feels familial and friendly. Every time I visit, I am greeted with a warm welcome before being served a hot cup of exceptional coffee and delicious cuisine.
When Massimo initially began looking for a place to open his shop, he wanted something tucked away on a quiet street corner, away from the hustle and bustle of traffic. Its current location, complete with an adjacent park, could not be better. Except for some temporary construction noise, Caffe Bambino is perfect.
We sat down with Massimo to learn more about his love of good coffee, his passion for food, and of course, the art of conversation.
Tell me about your background and how long you have been in Australia?
I come from Torino, Italy and have always been in the hospitality industry. After finishing school, I opened a couple of cafes. This was a tough life, so we decided to pack our bags and come to Australia. We came here on holidays previously and we liked it, so we knew that this was the right place for us and have been here for more than 6 years now.
To enter the country, I was sponsored as a chef for 4 years and then we made a move to Perth for 6 months. This was quite a culture shock after living in Melbourne for many years, as it is quite different in Perth. There are many Italians,though only a few of them speak English and it is quite segmented. If you want Italian, you go to one area; Chinese another; Greek another again. Whereas here [in Melbourne] you go to Lygon Street, which is primarily Italian, and you can get North African, French and a little bit of everything at once. So that‘s when we decided to come back to Melbourne.
What was the inspiration to start your own business?
I was sick of working for others. I was putting my heart and soul into my work, and I knew I could do this for my own business. I wanted to make 100% of the decisions, but this was a big gamble because of the language barrier and the difference in laws. When we came back from Perth, we started with a small cafe in South Yarra and quickly generated a sizeable following.
What sets you apart from all the other cafes in Docklands?
People love to come to Caffe Bambino and speak Italian. Everyone in the shop is Italian, so people get to reminisce and relive their holidays in Europe. When they come here, it’s like taking a little holiday in your lunch break.
All of our food and coffee is imported from Italy and we only use the best ingredients and blends. Our customers love the Prosciutto and the provolone mozzarella used in the Panini‘s. Also, my customers tell me they feel like coming to Caffe Bambino is like visiting a friend. A majority of my customers are between the ages of 30-50 and I have observed that this generation loves the person to person contact, making conversation and connection.
The others cafes cater towards big groups of people, but here at Caffe Bambino, it‘s more personal. You‘re not just a number here, you‘re a friend.
You have a large following and you have done this in a short amount of time; why do you think it has happened so quickly?
I have found that people bring their friends to my business based on word-of-mouth. We also have the best available Italian coffee blends and Joneseys milk that makes a difference to the overall taste of the coffee. This diminishes the profit margin, but that is the sacrifice I must make when it comes to setting myself apart. After all, getting customers to come back consistently is the key.
How do you promote your business?
Do you use social media to promote your business?
As of right now, I only utilize Facebook for business promotion, but social media is definitely an area I would like to expand on.
When you employ your staff what is it that you look for?
I like my employees to speak Italian (though not essential), to be neat, clean and presentable. I want my staff to love talking to people and remaining friendly at all times. However, this task is becoming increasingly hard because there are so many cafes opening all the time.
What do you love about this business?
I love talking to people and I love making great coffee. I also enjoy the preparation of the cakes and Panini‘s. Presentation is very important and people will purchase food based on what it looks like. I like the variety and am a very hands-on employer, which could also be mistaken as my being a control freak.
Do you have a favourite chef who inspires you?
My inspiration comes from Italian books. I also look around to see what other chefs and past employers are doing. I then transform the ideas I see to make them relevant in my own business.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
I have a very short-term focus. I‘ve had a very successful first summer that exceeded all of my expectations. Now I am waiting for the first winter in Docklands.
I am a one-at-a-time small business type of bloke. I am the business and the personality of the shop. If I expand I will lose the ambience of the café and the reason people come back. I like the personal touch.
Written by Penny Votzourakis and photography by Antonio M
Visit Caffe Bambino on Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caffe-Bambino-Docklands/465722523472979?fref=ts