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Meet Ash Nathan of CoffeeHead in Camberwell

Ash Nathan of CoffeeHead

UPDATE: CoffeeHead rebranded in 2021 and now operates as a cafe and roastery called 1961 Coffee Roasters, and a pizzeria and cocktail bar called 8 Pizzeria. The businesses are operated by Ash Nathan.

A cafe in Camberwell that believes in giving back to its customers and staff is demonstrating how business can be done differently.

Tucked away in Railway Parade, CoffeeHead has made a name for itself as Camberwell’s friendly cafe since opening its doors in 2011.

The former wine warehouse was converted into a vibrant yet comfortable environment, giving visitors a sense that this cafe is an extension of their own home.

Owner Ash Nathan said the design of the space was intended to make visitors feel welcome and comfortable.

“The idea is to let people come here and enjoy it,” he said.

The turf outdoor area has become a popular spot for dog lovers to sit and enjoy a coffee or for those who simply want to embrace being outdoors. Inside, the cafe is light and spacious and features a bright yellow counter where the baristas work their magic.

The cafe roasts their own coffee beans on site, and offer customers the choice of up to six different blends when they come in and order their coffee.

Brioche French toast CoffeeHead

A happy place

Mr Nathan encourages a friendly atmosphere in his cafe, and he said it all starts with the people he hires.

“We don’t look for staff who can carry plates, we hire based on personality. We want staff who want to be here and we want staff that are genuinely friendly,” he said.

“This has to be a happy place.”

He cultivates an honest and generous relationship with his staff members too, offering them to eat from the menu for free on their working days.

“I want my staff to know what food we offer and be in a position to recommend the food to our customers. Plus, I want to know if any of our dishes are not up to scratch or if they could do with improvement,” Mr Nathan said.

“If the staff are happy, the owner is happy, the suppliers are happy, the customers are happy. And it goes around.”

The customer comes first

CoffeeHead’s philosophy is about putting the customer the first.

“Our culture is to give everything we have to the customer. We do everything that is possible,” Mr Nathan said.

Most meals on the menu at CoffeeHead come in under $20, making it an affordable option for people who like to eat out without blowing the budget.

“A lot of people say our food should be priced higher. But my idea is to let people come here and enjoy. If I put my prices up, people are not going to visit regularly. I’d rather people come here more frequently,” he said.

Mr Nathan’s “honesty is the best policy” attitude has meant he can do the right thing by people which he believes is the “only way to do business”.

There was an instance a while ago where a customer ordered some coffee from CoffeeHead’s online store and Mr Nathan asked a staff member to drive the delivery to the customer, but they forgot. Three days later, Mr Nathan discovered the coffee order was sitting in the cafe so he went to personally deliver the coffee to the customer and threw in an extra bag of coffee to make up for the mistake.

“The customer was blown away because he couldn’t believe we went beyond the standard level of service. But this was our way acknowledging that we’d stuffed up,” he said.

Turns out, that honest approach came back to work in Mr Nathan’s favour – the customer later asked CoffeeHead to supply coffee to his business on a weekly basis and has become regular wholesale client.

“What makes our coffee the best is not only that it tastes good but that it comes with great service,” Mr Nathan said.

A passion for food

Originally from Sri Lanka, Mr Nathan grew up surrounded by food. By age 12, he knew he wanted to be a chef.

He worked in hotels and built up his professional experience before moving to London to work at the renowned Ritz where he gained his qualification at London’s City and Guilds Institute.

In 1992, Australia was looking for chefs and Mr Nathan saw it as an opportunity to further his career. His first job in Melbourne was working under MasterChef’s Gary Mehigan at Novotel on Collins. He then took on the role as head chef at Crown’s Automatic Cafe, which introduced him to his boss and eventual collaborator at CoffeeHead, Paul Mathis.

In many ways, Mr Nathan has returned to his roots at CoffeeHead.

His grandfather owned coffee estates in the Gampola region of Sri Lanka and Mr Nathan was surrounded by the smell of roasting coffee beans, drinking coffee and even playing among coffee bushes throughout his childhood.

“I believe everything in life happens for a reason. Life has come full-circle, from growing up in a coffee estate in Sri Lanka, to roasting coffee and running my own cafe now,” he said.

“I just love working with food and being surrounded by people. I think it gives you pleasure when you’re doing the right thing.”

CoffeeHead entrance

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