Get to know - Black Shag Boutique Cafe
From the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, Aotearoa is full of incredible hospitality joints. For our latest interview, we were lucky to highlight one of our customers based in Invercargill.
Get to know the Black Shag Boutique Cafe. Created by two ex-pat Aucklanders, their cafe is full of beautifully plated food, friendly people and exceptional coffee. The talented duo have their own coffee bean brand, Mint Coffee Roastery.
We were lucky enough to talk to Sylvie about all things coffee, local community, how you can get your hands on their coffee beans and so much more...
Hey Sylvie, thank you for chatting with me. Firstly can you tell me about Black Shag, and how it all began?
Black Shag started in September 2018. My partner Dion, who had been in the coffee industry for 15 years, had always dreamed of owning his own place. When we moved to Invercargill there was a gap in the market for a specialty coffee offering. We found an old fried chicken shop and converted the space into a funky wee coffee shop, which has since morphed into a full-service (though miniature) cafe.
What does a day in the life of working at Black Shag look like?
Until recently both Dion and I have been working a fair amount of hours on the shop floor. For a usual service, we arrive at work at 7 am, spend 30 minutes opening the shop and then get right into it. Service runs for 6.5 - 7.5 hours, depending on the day. We have always closed early so that we only have one full-time shift per role, and all our staff have afternoons off guaranteed. We run each shift with 3 - 4 people, so there is a lot of communication between the team, wearing many hats and collaborating to pull off the best service possible. We are a super cosy wee space, with seating inside for 18, so we get to know our team and customers well. We have a great little community of “Shaggers”!
When Dion is not working on the floor, he supports Black Shag by growing and harvesting produce from our home backyard, fixing things, or tinkering with building bits and pieces to optimize the small space of the shop. I’m on book-keeping duty, as well as HR, marketing and organizing community art exhibitions.
I can see that coffee is important to Black Shag. Can you tell our readers about your brand, Mint Coffee Roastery?
So this is the main reason we have transitioned off the floor at Black Shag. Mint Roastery was born out of the Covid lockdowns. We started roasting to minimize our cost of goods (in addition to Dion having had a general interest in it for some time). Transitioning to house-roasted coffee was one of the things that got us through the turmoil of being hit with Covid while our business was so young. Once he got going, Dion discovered a real passion for it. Having been a barista for so many years and having an intimate understanding of coffee, he has loved having this next layer of control over the product.
We decided to develop the brand of Mint Roastery so that other local cafes using our beans wouldn’t be repping another cafe’s brand. It has also been an opportunity to take all the lessons we have learned from the cafe (our first business) and implement them into this next phase. After some time roasting from a corner of Black Shag, we have upgraded our equipment, found a second space and are growing Mint Roastery as its own entity.
What is your daily coffee order to enjoy your roasted beans?
If I’m at Black Shag, I can’t go past my tulip oat flat white and I’m a sucker for a ristretto shot. At home, I love a good old plunger brew. We have two blends - The Choice Blend and The Flash Blend, as well as our Pure As Single Origin series, so I make sure I frequently sample the whole range!
Community is important to us here at decent packaging. Can you tell us what makes your local community of Invercargill so special to you?
Dion and I both originally come from the big smoke of Auckland, so we are pretty far away from home. We have fallen in love with Invercargill because of the people down here. Even though it’s classed as a city, it is essentially a small town. Everyone knows everyone and it’s the kind of place where you run into your friends at the supermarket. People are welcoming and make time to form new connections, especially the “expats” like us who have moved here. We have made some great connections with others in the hospitality industry, as well as gardeners and artists who we have met through our cafe.
Your menu looks delicious, can you please tell us the inspiration behind it?
The menu is the creative work of our amazing head chef, Evan Milina. Evan came to us in 2020 with 20 years of cheffing experience, looking for a change from the restaurant scene so that he could have more time with his family. He is a master of cooking seasonally, blending techniques from many cuisines and putting out beautifully plated highly flavoursome creations. His starting point is to look at what produce is in season, and then brainstorm ideas for how he can feature it. He passes all of his ideas through the filter of whether he can prep and execute the dish within the constraints of our one-person chef station in conjunction with the rest of the menu. Every season or two Evan will redefine our main menu, putting a twist on all the classic NZ brunch options, and in between menu changes he puts out experimental dishes on our specials blackboards so there is always something new to try.
I can see that reducing your single-use plastic is a big focus for you which is amazing. Can you give any tips to our readers on how you’ve been able to achieve this so far?
This has been one of our key goals in our shop. One of the main things we have done is focus on the waste created by milk packaging. We switched to a local milk supplier who initially delivered milk in glass bottles, but now drops off kegs that are attached to a milk tap. As for alternative milk, we developed house-made coconut and nut milk recipes to cut down on tetra packaging landfill waste. In the same philosophy, we make as many of our condiments as we can from scratch so that we are not generating packaging waste, from our aioli, relishes and sauces to the sugar syrup that we serve in our coffees. Other ways that we reduce landfill waste are to collect food scraps for a local farmer and collect compostable packaging waste that is picked up by a local composter.
Thank you for using decent Packaging. We love your ‘Mint’ custom branded cups. Can you tell our readers a bit about these and what made you decide to get your own custom compostable takeaway cups?
If it has to be single-use, it must at least be compostable. As we grow our roasting business, it’s a great opportunity to get our name out there and form the connection between Mint Roastery and the delicious coffee that our takeaway customers are enjoying!
Thank you again for chatting with us, can you please tell our readers where they can find you?
Black Shag Boutique Cafe