Friedhats Coffee Roasters (hereinafter referred to as Friedhats) was founded in 2016 as a specialty coffee roaster and the company opened its directly managed Fuku Café in 2018. Their motto is ‘Enjoy Ourselves.’ We spoke to Dylan, who founded Friedhats with his friend in Amsterdam, where he had drifted from his native New Zealand via Australia and London.
I didn’t want to do anything that I can’t enjoy.
It’s rare to find a website like Friedhats that doesn’t seem to be keen in selling products or promoting the company’s appeal at all. Aside from the high-impact logo that jumps out at you, there are no great-looking photos or catchy phrases that stick in your mind. The website is so unpretentious that it seems inorganic, but the quiet “statement” of ‘The less the time is spent on marketing, the more the time is spent on coffee,’ clearly comes to our mind.
“It’s the irony that Instagram is full of corporate ads of roasters. We don’t want to get so caught up in marketing that we neglect the quality of our coffee. The reason our products are selling well is our products themselves are “promoting sales” and it’s not because of the success in our marketing. The reason we’ve been in business for five years since 2016 is because we’ve been just lucky (laugh),” says Dylan.
Friedhats was founded by Dylan and Lex, who was once the employee and owner at the same cafe. After the café was closed due to a circumstance, they took over the roastery and started over.
“We didn’t start our own roasting business to make money,” they say. “We just wanted to make coffee that we liked, and we hoped other people would like it too. It’s not that we had confidence in our tastes, but we didn’t care about sales or comments from third parties. The most important thing for us was to have fun. We didn’t want to do anything we couldn’t enjoy ourselves and it was important for us to have a place where we could have fun.”
Nevertheless, to survive, they had to make some money. They sold their roasted coffee beans through an online store in the beginning but if they didn’t inform people about it, it was like setting up a store deep in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. The store remained closed about two years after its establishment and there were times when they thought about quitting but they say, “We didn’t take any actions and we didn’t even know what we had to do to change the situation.”
Despite this, Lex remained passionate about making good coffee and as a matter of fact, Lex became the national champion in a barista competition two years in a row in 2015 and 2016 in the Netherlands.
Lex says, “I used to have a lot of time. To win this competition, not only do you have to push yourself to compete with other competitors, but you also have to find the most interesting coffees in the world and develop a story to tell. I believe that competitions are the new stage of adventures that transcend the boundaries of coffee.”
“With my friend in hand, we wanted to find the coffee origins that make me happy and make the most of the appeal of the coffee we encounter there and share its potential with the world. I enjoyed the time I spent dedicating everything I had to those things. Working as a team with Dylan and the others who supported me behind the scenes to achieve victory was also a driving force.”
It was this competition that changed the game for Friedhats as the team’s second-place finish at the 2018 competition that helped the store. It started to be widely known and gradually attracted more customers.
Entering the world of coffee, which wasn’t originally in the career plan.
“It wasn’t ‘When I was a student, I started working at a café, which eventually became my job, and I got to know roasters and started my own business,’ but I entered the world of specialty coffee through a completely different route than that type of the classical route,” Dylan states.
Dylan’s background is a bit unusual. Dylan is originally from New Zealand and majored in Human Resource Management at a university. Because he liked working as a receptionist and luggage handler in small hotels, he also considered working in the hotel industry.
Moving to Australia with his girlfriend was a trigger for Dylan to get involved with coffee. He started working for her family’s coffee equipment repair service company with the condition that he would work there until he found a hotel job. A hotel contacted him about a position, but Dylan chose to stay on with the company.
Although he worked for a total of five years in London, where Dylan tried to get a job in Human Resources until he moved to Amsterdam, none of them led to a secure position. He was once scolded by one interviewer being questioned, ‘You have a degree in Human Resource Management but why haven’t you used it at all in your career?’
In despair that he couldn’t get a job he wanted in London, Dylan worked at a roastery for five years before moving to Amsterdam where he found a job at a café, something he had never done before, and then he met Lex.
“It was while working at a roastery in London that I discovered the appeal of specialty coffee. I was roasting Ethiopian green coffee and the moment I took the coffee off the tray and drank it, it tasted like blueberries in my mouth. Up until that point, I had a certain understanding of the taste of coffee, but I was not familiar with the fruitiness,” Dylan states.
“It’s not that I wanted to work in the coffee business and I told Lex about it. But after we started running our company, I realized that this is also a job of human resource management. In my current job, half of it is related to coffee, but the other half of it is related to human resource management.”
“We have to do a lot of things, but on the other hand, we can build our world as we like. That’s the joy of running your own business and that’s what I like about this job.”
Having close and sincere relationships with regulars.
In recent years, there has been a tendency to simply say that direct trade is “good” and indirect trade through middlemen is “bad,” but Friedhats procures most of its coffees from importers.
“The problem with direct trade is that it requires a lot of work and effort, and it is not necessarily more beneficial than buying from importers. We can’t buy all lots and all producers’ coffees at once by ourselves and this reduces the benefits for the producers as well. It would be of great help to the producers if several roasters like us could buy all the coffees at once from importers who have teamed up with the producers.”
“In this sense, we try to choose the same people to work with as much as possible. We connect with the producers and if we like what we see, we buy the same coffees from the same farm every year because the producers also influence the taste of the coffee. Of course, we keep an open mind and try new things, but we need to maintain good relationships with the regulars.”
Whether it’s business partners or customers, Friedhats’ stance on being ‘close and sincere’ with customers remains unchanged and many of ‘the regulars’ go to Fuku Café managed by Friedhats every day.
“I guess we don’t want to feel the stress of being surrounded by so many choices to the point we get to spend time at a café. I think we want to have just regular talks and not thinking much when we are having coffee. This is why the baristas who work at Fuku Café sometimes go somewhere with customers and I’ve even been invited by a customer who is a member of an orchestra to go see a concert he played. The wonderful thing about this job is that even if they are your customers, you can have relationships like being a good friend to them.”
What Dylan and Lex say has no hint of self-consciousness. It is also very typical of them that the company name ‘Friedhats’ has no particular meaning. The café, created by the two with unpretentious personalities, must feel like a home for the regulars as if you are at Dylan’s and Lex’s home welcoming close friends.
Originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi.
“Physically speaking, I tend to have headache when I don’t drink coffee, so I like the moment I drink coffee for a break occasionally. When I recall my life, I was deeply impressed at the moment I had coffee without thinking much and I felt sunshine in the early morning on a sunny day in a very cold winter.”