As one of the newest small business operators on Hannan Street, Billy-Ray Stokes credits the development of his entrepreneurial ambitions to the influence of family and an unorthodox education.
Those instincts paved the way in October for the launch of his innovative hatch-style coffee enterprise, The Proper Gander Espresso.
The early stages proved a resounding success.
It was, however, actually years in the making as Billy-Ray and wife Rebecca sought to bring, via great coffee, a slice of Melbourne’s famous cafe strips to the Goldfields.
His business instincts, in part but not exclusively, stem from his grandfather, well-known mining, business and community identity Graham Thomson.
“I’m fortunate to have a lot of family members, on both sides, who are self-employed,” Mr Stokes said.
“But if I had to pin point it, I would say it was the fact I was home schooled – my body clock, no alarm, had me up every day at 6am, all my schooling done by 10am and then I could do whatever I wanted for the rest of the day.
“That’s what I found difficult in traditional, structured employment – you’re used to being able to assess things on their merit and if I do something, what are the consequences and if it’s not an issue, then what does it matter?
“I think being able to work things out for yourself is a skill that is largely lost these days.”
But it was a three-year stint in Melbourne from 2012 to 2015 that had him seriously pondering new business ventures.
“In Melbourne, Rebecca and I made a rule to visit a new coffee shop or cafe every week,” Mr Stokes said.
“In three years, never once were we at a loss for choice because no matter what your interest is in Melbourne, it’s world class.
“I like coffee and you know what good coffee tastes like.
“But then we came back to Kalgoorlie and there was good coffee, but not amazing coffee.
“The baseline for a successful cafe or coffee shop in Melbourne is exceptional, world-class coffee but then you must have a point of difference.”
The couple eventually returned to Kalgoorlie-Boulder in 2015, “needing a rest from the rat race.”
“The first anyone knew of us coming back (to the Goldfields) was when my brother-in-law found me asleep on his floor,” Mr Stokes said.
“Once we got back, Rebecca and I decided to go travelling, but first we had to work our backsides off for six to 12 months.
“We went everywhere overseas and it was the best thing we could ever have done.
“We also realised the standard of Australian coffee is like nowhere else in the world – hands down better.
“In six months, we visited 16 countries and there were only two places where we had a good coffee.
“One was in Frankfurt, Germany, a little place called the Holy Cross Brewing Society, and another place, a tiny bakery, in Santorini (among Greece’s Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea).
“These places planted the seeds for something similar in Kalgoorlie because everywhere we went, Australian coffee standards were better than Rome, Paris and the US, who claim they love their coffee.
“No one had coffee like we were used to and it made us think, ‘there’s got to be a market for this,’ because we know people love exceptional coffee.”
What followed was more than two years of research and planning.
“My wife is trained in restaurants and under-rates herself so much because she is an exceptional chef,” Mr Stokes said.
“Even before we met, I always had ideas to open a cafe or something similar.
“But we just wanted to do coffee, not food as well, and coincidently, we were asked by Bec’s sister-in-law, Prue (who owns Prue’s Perfect Pieces) to split the location.
“She actually told us she’d be interested in doing coffee at her shop and would we be interested.
“Of course we agreed.
“We split overheads, we bring her customers and leverage her customer base – it’s great.”
An official Sunday opening drew big lines of customers from 4.30am until closing 13 hours later, with nearly 700 coffees put out.
“It put us on the map straight away, which is what we needed,” Mr Stokes said.
“That’s testament to the community we live in and included two people, off their own bat, who went out and got us food because we hadn’t had time to eat.
“I hate it when people say they’ve started a business and that people don’t support them.
“People vote with their wallets, that’s how it works, and it’s not like the community doesn’t support others.
“In our case, it’s so humbling to be on the receiving end of that support.”
For the record, Mr Stokes’ beverage of choice is a piccolo and his wife a latte.
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