This month we spoke to Jemma Schilling. She’s one half of the partnership bringing the small-bar vibe to Port Lincoln, South Australia, in the shape of the thriving coffee and wine bar, The Rogue & Rascal.
Jemma and her business partner, Elouise Dukalskis, explain how they have prioritized creativity and autonomy as a means to create loyal, long-lasting community experiences.
“We opened Rogue and Rascal in Port Lincoln, a seaside community seven hours west of Adelaide where I grew up. Neither Elouise or I had run a business before. But we were living in Adelaide at the time and we knew we could bring the small-bar vibe to a regional area. We wanted to showcase quality local produce and bring top-notch customer service.
“We chose the location for a number of reasons. I had connections there. It was less risky to set up in a place where we had the competitive advantage because no one else was offering the same thing. But success is also less elusive in a smaller community. In Port Lincoln you can afford to forget a sugar in someone’s coffee when you’re starting up. In Adelaide, you can be on trend one day and forgotten the next. It’s brutal.”
On starting Rogue and Rascal
“Elouise and I were 21 and 23 years old respectively when we registered the business. It was a daunting decision, but we’d both been exposed to the world of tech start-ups before. Their mentality is to ‘stop talking and start trying’. So that’s what we did.
“I knew we’d make a great team. I’m a creative, disruptive person at heart and she’s very much a brilliant systems-oriented implementer. Every successful initiative needs that blend.”
On remaining agile
“Our model was to operate as a coffee bar with snacks by day and as a wine bar by night. We assumed that the wine bar would be the most popular aspect – perhaps because we enjoy drinking wine. We put a lot of thought and attention into it.
“But as soon as we opened, we realized that Port Lincoln was crying out for fresh and healthy cafe food. They wanted to know what else we made. We had to listen to that. We had to pivot significantly in the first two weeks. We added a new menu and hire extra staff. That flexibility has only been to our benefit.
“We are now at the forefront of quality coffee and we have a beautiful menu that we change regularly. But experiences are never just about a product. They are about atmosphere and customer service. We focus on the intrigue you get when you arrive and the feeling that lingers when you leave.”
On fostering workforce autonomy
“We opened with eight staff (including ourselves) and nine months later we have sixteen staff. It’s really something to know you’re responsible for all those salaries and opportunities for development. We work hard to give everyone clarity around their roles while leaving space for creativity and autonomy too.
“Take our cakes, for example. We used to buy them from a wonderful local lady. We didn’t make much margin, but they were delicious. That was an easy business decision at the time. But our kitchen girls, who are between 18 and 19 years old, also had the skills and interest and we want to empower them. We put the onus back on them and challenged them to make a certain number each week.
“It’s great for business. It costs a lot less to make cakes than to buy them and they can be marketed as house-made cakes. But, more importantly, it gives our staff that creative outlet – that drive and that sense of ownership. One of the girls just came out and showed me her lemon slices! They love doing this.”
On advice to others taking a leap of faith
“For me, knowing what you don’t know is the most powerful thing you can do. It forces you to cross-check everything you do before you take action. You remain open to learning new things and you can back yourself. Nobody knows it all.
“Steve Jobs said, ‘Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.’ That gives me a lot of peace of mind. I can look around at every other cafe or wine bar and know that they faced the same struggles, the same ups and downs. We are not unique in that sense. And if other people have gotten through it, we can too. And these days, we have way more access to resources and knowledge.”
On being brave and disruptive
“I’m proud to say that Elouise and I haven’t killed one another during the course of our business! It’s only strengthened our teamwork. We’re now starting to phase ourselves out of the day-to-day running of things so we can focus on other ideas.
“We could never have learned as much in the space of a year in any other job, and we’ve had our fair share of challenges.
“In the early days, we faced every complaint that could be put against a cafe. Our competitors made them all. But with disruption comes the polarization of your audience. For us, it’s only served to build our resilience. It would take an epic challenge to faze us now.”