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‘There must be more people like me looking for this human connection.’

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Feature by Michael Canning

After a career as a professional Australian football (AFL) player, Nicholas Stone moved from Melbourne to New York to work in finance. but finding he missed the experience of a local Australian café, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

In 2013, he created his own café as a small side business in New York — it now has branches in 30 locations across six cities. Despite this phenomenal growth, Nick has a simple ambition: to share his passion for Australian local culture with the world. We spoke to Nick on his vision for exporting Australian hospitality, creative inspiration and inside tips for life in LA.


On where you’re from

I‘m from Melbourne, Australia. I grew up in Brighton and lived in Prahran before I moved overseas.

On your move to New York

I moved to New York in September 2010. I moved to follow my girlfriend — now wife — in her career. But I’d always wanted to work in New York, which is one of the main reasons I studied finance, and I’ve worked in investment banking since my AFL (Australian Football League) career wound up at the end of the 2005 season. I joined ANZ in 2006 and worked there for 10 years. I had the opportunity to rebuild the corporate finance team after the financial crisis, and worked in both New York and London in 2011. I settled on New York in 2012, and we launched Bluestone in mid-2013. It’s been a transformative change in the last two years — we’ve opened 18 stores and a major production facility, so the brand has come leaps and bounds in that time. Now with the investment with Matt (Higgins) and Steve (Ross) and their partnership (RSE Ventures) I think we have an opportunity to grow really significantly.

On moving from New York to LA

We moved to LA earlier this year (from NY). We had a daughter, Arabella, in October last year, and decided to move to LA for professional reasons and personal reasons. Professionally, we want Bluestone to be as big in California as we are on the east coast; we needed an executive to really oversee that strategy and it made sense that it was me. 

We were also looking for a change after living in New York for eight and nine years — my wife, nine years. I still go to New York twice a month; I’m going tomorrow at 6am, which will be fun (laughs).

On Australian coffee culture

The Australian coffee brand has really grown globally. It’s pretty amazing, and it’s well deserved because I think Australia does have the most experiential, premium and best coffee culture in the world, so we’re happy to be a part of it.

Bluestone Lane 'Collective Cafe' in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, and Bluestone Lane branding. Image credit: Ben Hider

On creating Bluestone Lane

It really came about out of necessity. I couldn’t be my most productive and be the best person I can be in an environment where I lacked my twice-daily escape. New York is such an inspirational place but it’s extremely competitive and intense, and that’s the beauty of it — you’ve got to fuel off that, but you do need some respite. I really missed the element of getting a coffee. I wasn’t even a huge coffee drinker but what I was is an experience junkie. I love people knowing my face, my name and my order. I really like human connection, and I think that’s really missing in New York. There’s a lot of people who are pretty lonely and hemmed in by this gigantic city, and after considering it a long time, I thought there must be more people like me looking for this human connection. 

So then I started digging into the industry and understanding how it works. We started small and conservatively because I didn’t have any background in hospitality, and also because I put up 50% of the money and three people who sat next to me put up the other amounts. We started as a hole in the wall in the bottom of an office tower, and it worked well. What started as a side business has grown into something where I’ve been full time for the last two years. It’s been a lot of fun and we have a lot of opportunity over the next few years.

On what the Bluestone brand is about

My focus was always on building a brand — the way the experience is meant to translate and what the brand is meant to stand for, which is to be a reflection of authentic Australian culture, brought to life and exported in the US. We don’t want customers; customers are homogenous, impersonal and transactional. We want locals. When you’re a local, you want to go there everyday because it makes you feel good — you know the team that serves you and we know you. I think nobody does what we do as well as Australia, and I’m really proud to say that if we can export some of those authentic, premium coffee culture qualities to the US then I think we’ve done a really good job.

‘My focus was always on building a brand... which is to be a reflection of authentic Australian culture, brought to life and exported in the US. We don't want customers. We want locals.’

On the new generation

It’s interesting, Australians have quite a closed view on Starbucks. Most people say Starbucks didn’t work in Australia and it failed. What’s interesting is that Starbucks has been so incredibly successful — it’s the most successful hospitality brand in history. But their value proposition is not really relevant to a young millennial discerning customer who has information at their fingertips to tell people where to go.

From coast to coast. Downtown Manhattan, NY and Santa Monica, LA. Image credits Beatrice Neagu (above) and Cedric Dhaenens (below)

On culture from east to west coast

The west coast is certainly akin to life in Australia. We live in Santa Monica on the west side, and now have the luxury of living in a small house with a backyard after living in a tiny apartment in West Village for nine years. The different climate is quite significant. Where we live, there’s a burgeoning tech scene in Santa Monica — Silicon Beach, as they call it — and there are a lot of consumer brands that are based in LA. I spend two-thirds of my time in LA and one-third in New York. It's good to be able to work in two great cities.

On where you find inspiration

There are plenty of companies and brands that I have tremendous aspiration for. I go to Australia twice a year to look at what’s going on there. I think the Boathouse Group in Sydney are absolutely amazing; I think the Top Paddock Group in Melbourne are phenomenal. And then in the States, I take inspiration from people who do customer service exceptionally well — there’s a whole host of different brands. I love reading about certain visionary leaders — such as Phil Knight's book Shoe Dog, Malcom Gladwell’s books, Reid Hoffman, whose podcast I love — and that provides me a lot of intel about what tips and tricks we can apply to Bluestone.

‘Where we live there’s a burgeoning tech scene in Santa Monica — Silicon Beach, as they call it — and there are a lot of consumer brands that are based in LA.’

On a few local spots in California

I definitely think Malibu is cool to check out; go for a surf and eat at Malibu Farms. That’s a great day trip. Going to Orange County and looking at Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Corona Del Mar, and I would also recommend Palm Springs. There’s a hotel out there called Parker Palm Springs, which is a very cool place to check out and stay for a couple of days. The environment is wonderful for the outdoors.

On LA entertainment

I’ve got an 11-month/year-old baby, so not much (laughs). There are some wonderful restaurants; I think particularly Mexican and vegan are done exceptionally well in California. I’m big into skiing, so the accessibility to go skiing in California and surrounding states is pretty cool. I like to play tennis, go for a run and go surfing, and there’s obviously plenty of bars to have a quiet one — the Bungalow in Santa Monica is pretty cool for an outdoor bar.

In New York, I could never have a barbecue — LPG gas bottles are banned in New York City — but in LA I have a barbecue in my backyard where you can have a beer, which is a pretty good day for me. I’m pretty simple.

I like seeing rock bands. I saw Gang of Youths about two months ago for $12, and there were 60 people in the club. I’m big into rock’n’roll and there have been plenty of good shows at the Hollywood Bowl of late.

Bluestone Lane cafes. Images courtesy Nicholas Stone.

On your coffee order

I typically have a piccolo with whole milk or oat milk at the moment, I’m huge into oat milk. And I drink iced magics in the afternoon.

On window seat or aisle

I’m window seat — I like to be able to lean against the window. I’m nearly 6 foot 5 inches, and with my big, sort of angular arms and pointy elbows, I’m not a great person to sit next to, so it’s beneficial for fellow passengers for me to sit on the window.

On LA in one word

Fragmented. If you live in west LA it’s nothing like east LA. It's so big and spread out, a sprawling city.


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