Founder of Peaberrys Coffee Roasters, Adrian Rigon, hands over the reins to the next coffee generation
Think back to the early 2000s – what was your go-to cafe? Did you even have a regular coffee spot?
It’s hard to imagine what coffee life was like before the 2010 cafe boom began to unfold. For the sprinkling of cafes that were serving up your daily caffeine hit, their choice of bean was dominated by big Italian coffee roasting brands. That is until Adrian Rigon and his father Elio, entered the scene.
“We registered Peaberrys in November 1999, prior to this my father was a coffee wholesaler and I started working with him in the 90s. He sold the Robert Timms brand and during this time I travelled a lot with him and had a lot of exposure to coffee, and we both said ‘we can do better, and need to roast our own coffee.'"
Born in Melbourne, Adrian’s inner city Melbourne heritage and Italian background meant coffee would naturally run through his veins, and this love of coffee and coffee culture was only heightened following a family trip to Italy.
“My first trip to Italy really educated me on the lifestyle that is coffee. It wasn’t necessarily just about coffee, it’s what it means to people and the role it plays in the community, and what role the cafe – or bar, as they refer to it in Italy – plays in the community, the significance and importance of it. When that realisation hit, I was just gone.”
Where Peaberrys all began
Unsure of what Newcastle locals would think of artisan roasted coffee, in the early 2000s, Adrian Elio initially took a cautious approach to the business.
“We didn’t have a roaster at first, we weren’t sure if it would work so once a week I’d travel to Sydney and roast the coffee at my friend's roaster in Parramatta. Then drive home, do the packing at dad’s warehouse in Carrington, and go out and sell at the growers markets, the original ones in the tram sheds.”
“We had so much fun at the markets, it allowed us to get in front of the public and get their feedback. There was no strategy, it was purely organic and fueled by passion and a love for what we were doing. We were working seven days a week, but we didn’t care, we were young and energetic.”
The Peaberry locations
Adrian’s wife Debbie insisted that they needed a shop front, and eventually convinced Adrian, with New Lambton (now Sherwood Cafe) their first location. With a little 15 kilo roaster out the back, the demand for Peaberrys coffee grew quickly, so too did their team and the need for a bigger warehouse space. However the challenge of managing two spaces wore out its welcome, with Adrian deciding to sell the New Lambton cafe and return to a wholesale business, working out of their Tighes Hill warehouse.
“I couldn’t cope with two locations, but we then missed being in front of the public, and at that time the industry was changing. There was a thirst for coffee knowledge and we knew we needed a location to promote our brand, and were lucky to find this location in Islington which we opened in 2010.”
For those who remember when Peaberrys first launched on Maitland Road, it was revolutionary, which was a reflection of Adrian’s vision to bring the Peaberrys brand and experience to life.
“We worked with Hannah Richardson, who designed Code Black in Brunswick, and went to a lot of trouble and expense to do it properly.”
Adrian on the changing coffee landscape
Chatting with Adrian, I get the sense he could share stories all day on the Peaberrys journey. The ups and downs of business, the changing coffee landscape, all of which Adrian has taken in his stride, and has only ever seen as being good for business and the community.
“Running a business is not for the faint hearted, it’s hard work, and there’s been a lot of changes to the industry since we started in 2000. We’ve always had competition, it’s just been different, different brands.
“The emphasis on the artisan practitioner and the preference towards looking local first has been one of the biggest changes, and it’s a good change, rather than multinationals or larger companies where it’s a commodity or another line for them. You’re working alongside people not dissimilar to how we started, they’re passionate, they’re motivated, dedicated, it’s terrific, I see it only being a positive for business and the community."
Adrian on Retiring
When I asked Adrian about whether the decision to retire had been a swift one, or a slow burn, there was an emotional pause.
“You don’t need people to tell you when it's time, if you listen to what’s going on, you just know. One thing about business is, business doesn’t really care about your needs and wants, business does what business will do, and if you’re not giving your business what it needs it won’t get what it wants.
“I was aware that I was getting a bit tired, and not necessarily the right person to be running the business. Whilst the roots of coffee will never change, everything around it is. Which is why I reached out to James (Conway).
“I didn’t know James well, but I knew he was very proactive in business, running a coffee enterprise. James is local so he understands the market, we’re not Sydney, and I saw a lot of shared values which is important to me. It’s still a people business, people want to form relations with the supplier, it’s a tangible product and James understands customer care, which is why he’s successful.”
“Once I reassured myself everything was going to be ok, just work on today, and don’t worry about next week, things have a way of working themselves out, I was more comfortable with the idea of letting go.
Whilst the keys were officially handed over in September 2023, Adrian is still very much a part of the team, and will continue to be throughout the transition period.
“James and his crew know that I am here to help when they need me, whether it’s helping with the roasting process or just a conversation over a cup of coffee.”
James and taking on the Peaberrys legacy
“Adrian’s Newcastle’s OG coffee roaster, so I feel quite privileged that he reached out asking us to purchase the business. Adrian has seen what we’ve been doing with Glitch and Bliss and acknowledged that Peaberrys needed new school blood, or young energy as he says [James laughs] to not only see it into the future, but restore it back to its former glory," James said.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia around Peaberrys in Newcastle, so it’s been an emotional transaction. For Adrian it’s very personal, it’s been his baby for 23 years, so I took it as a big compliment that he wants us to continue its journey."
Chatting with Adrian and James out the front of Peaberrys, you can see there is a genuine connection and mutual respect, and when asked what Adrian hopes to see for the Peaberrys brand, as the person who founded it, Adrian was clear.
“Aligning with people who share our values. My father demonstrated those values – if you run your business based on values you’ll always have a business otherwise it’s just economics and everyone’s doing that.
“I am confident James and his team will continue to run and grow the brand based on solid values, and that’s just caring for the people around you.”