Over and over again, we focus on how coffee enthusiasts and daily drinkers need to value the service received from baristas and everyone else on the coffee chain. What if the spotlight is on the coffee shop itself? From its management and how it is run to improving the livelihood of its workers. This is the story of Fellow Coffee’s founder, Kevin Kaunang.
As an aspiring civil engineer, specializing in coast conservation (because Indonesia is a coastal country), Kevin became a part-time barista in his second year in college, and from the moment he knew how to operate an espresso machine, the smell of ground coffee and the overall workflow always left him wanting more, as
“the coffee, the culture, and the communication”
between the customer and barista were always new experiences for him.
Kevin’s education was threatened when his father was diagnosed with vertigo illness and forced to retire early. The need to fend for himself after school increased, and after borrowing some money from his dad, Kevin opened Fellow Coffee.
“I borrowed some money from my dad and decided to open my first business; Fellow Coffee. Yes, probably a reckless decision knowing I didn’t have much experience, but with my hardest intentions, I’m ready for that.”
Kevin’s start wasn’t a smooth one, as he had to overcome two huge trials.
First, market penetration posed a problem since Indonesia is known as a Robusta-producing nation and Fellow Coffee was going into specialty coffee using Single Origin Arabica. It was very challenging to build a crowd and market his business.
Secondly, he had to defeat the stigma that labeled baristas as servants.
“In my earlier time running the business, people looked down on me and my other employees, because at that time in Indonesia, customers thought baristas were servants and treated us disrespectfully.”
Kevin began the train of valuing his employees and everyone who walked into his coffee shop. To do this, he focused on three major areas: barista appearance, customer service, and coffee shop services, and this worked wonders. Maybe not immediately, but as good customer feedback trickled in, the baristas felt a sense of pride and coupled with respect and rewards from the management, there is an overall joy from everyone walking in and out of Fellow Coffee.
“So today our coffee shop’s number one priority is to make baristas feel proud about their job and duty by giving them proper wages (slightly higher than other coffee shops), career paths, an appreciation bonus, free tickets to coffee courses, and other amenities.”
Anyone looking for more concrete results will be interested in the nine local coffee competitions won during their three and a half years of operation, with only thirty-eight people on staff. Kevin has made it his mission to be an employee centric-employer. He makes sure that they know their importance, and are highly valued and respected, which is why it irks him when a customer complains about the service, even though there was no mistake made, just to get a free cup of coffee.
As he works daily as a coffee shop owner, he finds different things that stand out for him, like interacting with employees, quality control, and serving customers. This allows him to be able to sit down and create good systems and workflows that permits Fellow Coffee to run better and more effectively.
Even though he sometimes wonders if he could be doing something different with his Civil Engineering degree, Kevin likens the fact that science and math in coffee production resonate with his degree. As for his most memorable cup of coffee:
“It was a filter coffee that I bought from The Barn, Berlin – Laurina Dattera, Brazil. It’s the same lot that Emi Fukahori used to win WBC 2018.”
When involved in regional barista competitions, Kevin finds it difficult when he has to run around, from one coffee shop to another, searching for espresso machines, but all that will not stop his goal: to see Fellow Coffee known all over the world – a feat we know is possible, as he is on that route and has recently opened another branch at RSUD Provinsi Sulawesi Utara, Indonesia.
Kevin draws his inspiration from Howard Schultz, who
“teaches me to look for opportunity in our daily life aspects, treat my employees respectfully, and give the best experience to customers,”
and Elon Musk, where he learns about
“hard work, efficiency, and pursuing my dream further than ever.”
He has had to learn delegation, by properly dividing departments to help Fellow Coffee grow its profits, recognition, and impact.
Fellow Coffee doesn’t just focus on its employees; they hold an annual CSV (Creating Shared Value) with its core values: selling good coffee, stimulating productivity, and serving communities. It was held for the third time recently as they organized a coffee class to bridge college students to the coffee industry so they could learn more and have a broader perspective on other coffee professions.
The first edition included helping Palm Sugar Farmer enhance their production and quality by giving them quality equipment and signing contracts to buy their products. The second edition had them organizing “Fellow Temple,” an event that included a latte art competition to help local baristas gain more experience, and “Locals Day,” which collaborated with the fashion community to showcase their brands and products to all customers on the catwalk.
Over his time in the coffee industry, Kevin has experienced different waves of coffee. He said:
“I think we’re going to the fourth wave of the coffee world, where ‘Signature Beverages’ and ‘Coffee Cocktails and Mocktails’ are ruling the industry. It’s like a two-sided knife, which can bring coffee to non-drinkers and can ruin the specialty aspects.”
Kevin is really open to visits, and you may catch him, in his non-coffee time, running or reading books on business, philosophy, and psychology. His advice to others is:
“Pursue your dreams no matter what, but always remember to give 101% of your efforts. Making mistakes is natural, but reviving is essential.”