2020 - a year that has thrown everyone a curveball, especially at the hospitality scene in Melbourne. With lockdown extensions across the state, many businesses are finding innovative ways to rise above these challenging times. In the midst of this, is Kinfolk and Sibling Cafe - a non-profit cafe in the heart of Melbourne with a focus on making a social and sustainable impact. We interviewed their CEO Jarrod Briffa to discover how their transition has been over the past few months. Beyond that, we found the story behind Kinfolk and Sibling Cafe as well as the charitable work they do for the community to be incredibly inspiring.
Tell us about Kinfolk and Sibling. What inspired you to create them?
Kinfolk started over 10 years ago in 2010. It was a social experiment at the time - to see if we can shift the way the philanthropic model works from a donation model towards a service based model where funds are raised through everyday purchases - like buying a coffee, or getting a meal at a cafe. What I think is really interesting about our story is that we were a bunch of young people who didn't really have any money, expertise nor experience. But we had a lot of passion, good intentions and time on our hands.
Kinfolk came out of the coming together of a group of people to see if they could make something positive happen. We didn't know what Kinfolk was going to look like, apart from our initial intention to distribute the profit back into community projects according to customer nominations. It has become a lot more during the last 10+ years! We embedded a volunteer program into the operation, which was initially intended to create opportunities for people to contribute to something bigger than themselves, and to share their skills and time. What happened after the business opened was that lots of people who came to volunteer were facing personal challenges and social isolation. It's a very diverse community; over ten years, it has shifted towards bringing together people with issues such as social isolation, learning disabilities, mental health challenges and long-term unemployment. Kinfolk has become a stepping stone for them to build their skills, confidence, get jobs and connect with other people in the community.
"Kinfolk came out of the coming together of a group of people to see if they could make something positive happen."
What does your day look like right now?
I’m grateful to have a job right now. I can still leave the house and go to work. It has been a very interesting time for us as a company. Back in March and April, we lost about 70% of our income. Obviously no business is viable at that point. It wasn't safe or viable to run the volunteer training program so we paused it. We faced the existential question - Are we still Kinfolk? Are we a social enterprise if we are not creating social impact?
We pivoted the business to provide groceries. As soon as that happened, our staff, even though their jobs were insecure, were already looking for ways they could contribute to the community if we couldn't through the training program. We shifted the immediate impact into relief meals. Our cafe, Sibling in Carlton North is still operating for takeaways only, but the rest of our team is focused on the online shop providing groceries and sending out relief meals. The relief meals are largely supported by our customers who donate when purchasing their groceries and meals online. The main charity we are working with is inTouch, Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence. Each week we are sending out care hampers to restock pantries with food and home essentials for 20 families a week.
"..we are sending out our 10,000th relief meal, so we’ve been pretty busy! It’s an interesting place to be in, considering back in April we were looking at closure and wondering if we were going to survive a few more weeks."Beyond that we’ve been doing a lot of relief meals. At the end of September we are sending out our 10,000th relief meal, so we’ve been pretty busy! It’s an interesting place to be in, considering back in April we were looking at closure and wondering if we were going to survive a few more weeks. We had a lot of stock on hand, our staff had a lot of time and we had resources that were underutilised. We’ve been able to put all those things to good use and provide relief to people doing it tough which has been a feel good outcome in these challenging times.
If you could meet yourself in 2010 (when Kinfolk opened), what advice would you give to your younger self?
I don’t know if I’d do anything differently. A large part of the reason we are here and have stayed as long as we have, has been to do with our belief in ourselves and our willingness to jump into the deep end and learn to swim as we hit the water.
When we opened the cafe, we had so little experience in the hospitality business. We were working it out day by day. Working out what went right, what went wrong and trying to fix it the next day. It was a very steep learning curve. And obviously, every time you do that, it gets a bit easier after. But there’s been heaps of points along the way where we’ve taken similar challenges where you’re not really sure how they’re going to work out. But you know enough to know that you can probably work it out along the way. That’s the story of our journey and I wouldn’t want to change that.
"I think it’s pretty hard to run the perfect sustainable enterprise. We are in the business of consumption. ..it's very much being conscious of all those things and trying to continuously improve to have minimal negative impacts and as much positive impact as possible. "
What does social and sustainable impact mean to you?
We have one thought that we try to run through all our decision making at Kinfolk -“conscious consumption”. It is an awareness of where things come from, how you’re impacting your supply chain and what outcomes happen as a result of those decisions as well.
I think it’s pretty hard to run the perfect sustainable enterprise. We are in the business of consumption. So there’s always going to be some level of waste. So it's very much being conscious of all those things and trying to continuously improve to have minimal negative impacts and as much positive impact as possible. A good example of how we try to keep our finger on the pulse with these things - a few weeks ago we implemented a new takeaway cup for Sibling. The previous cups we had took about 32 weeks to break down, and the new one only takes 8 weeks. We provide bins for our customers and all the takeaway materials can be composted - many customers even bring takeaway cups back on their next visit to dispose of them responsibly. It sounds like a small thing, and they cost us a little bit more, but it's all these small things; Once you add them all up, we’re actually running the business a lot more consciously.
From this side of 2020, what’s one positive change the recent events in the world have created?
To see how so many people, especially in the hospitality industry have adapted quickly and developed innovative responses to keep their people employed. Beyond that, just seeing how so many of the staff, even though they are in really precarious positions with lack of job security themselves, still wanted to contribute. I think there’s been a lot of positives you can witness in what’s going on at the moment. On a personal level, just seeing people slowing down for the first time in years. Observing people starting to acknowledge what's important to them and how they actually want to be in the world. I think that's a really good thing to come out of the Pandemic.
"It gives me the most joy when we see so many of our customers purchasing meals for themselves and at the same time, getting meals for someone doing it tough."
What’s in store for Kinfolk and Sibling in 2021?
We are barely looking more than two weeks ahead at the moment. We have made what I consider a successful transition into online groceries and gifts. So that’s definitely going to be on the cards for next year. I think Melbourne CBD is a very challenging place to operate a business at the moment, so I don't know when Kinfolk cafe can open again. This obviously creates a lot of challenges for our training program. But we’ve done a lot of work developing our modules and our accredited training partnership during this time and I plan that this will be ready to go in 2021. So hopefully we’ve got a better volunteer program when the volunteers return. We’re really trying to focus on keeping Sibling going strong. The local community in Carlton North & Fitzroy North are keeping the cafe going strong and we are doing our best to support the community with relief meals. We’ve made that a core part of what we’re doing.
What Kinfolk or Sibling meal are you loving right now?
There is a great range of heat at home dinner meals on the online store. We’ve been through them all in my house. It gives me the most joy when we see so many of our customers purchasing meals for themselves and at the same time, getting meals for someone doing it tough. I think at the moment, times are tough for a lot of people, and people that can afford these meals are extra generous as well. So, that generosity is my favorite meal on the menu.