For someone who started out behind the chip fryer at McDonald’s, Shawn Pope’s career in hospitality has certainly come a long way. As the owner of Melba Group and overseeing 8 Melba cafes around Auckland, he’s never strayed far from the industry he started out in 30 years ago.
"It’s dynamic, it’s exciting, it’s fun and it’s all about the people. It’s an amazing industry to be in," he says.
Shawn had sidestepped into a career in the corporate world when he decided he wanted to get back into hospitality. He spent a few years looking for the perfect opportunity when Melba Vulcan Lane came on the market.
"The first time I walked up the lane something clicked. I liked the environment, the location, the vibe, it really spoke to me. That was 13 years ago and it’s been an amazing ride ever since," Shawn says,
On the ride with him has been wife Michelle. While Shawn is a typical ‘hospo’ front of house personality, Michelle works behind the scenes, making sure the books get done and the suppliers get paid. She says they work well together due to their complementary strengths and weaknesses.
"If you are both good at the same thing you can’t be a good team. We have to work together to fill in the gaps moving forward," Michelle says.
And Shawn is the first to admit he could never have done it without the support of Michelle.
"To have someone who knows you and understands your strengths is a huge asset. She has been right beside me the whole time and we have done it together."
Over the past 13 years Shawn and Michelle have purchased an additional seven cafes. This rapid expansion has required a close working relationship with ANZ.
"One of the biggest challenges we have faced is being able to finance our growth. It’s important to surround yourself with people more talented than you. That could be your accountant, your lawyer or your bank. We are lucky that ANZ has been such a great partner in this journey of ours," says Shawn.
But building their café empire has come at a price: long hours spent working and time away from the family.
"A lot of people tell me it’s a lifestyle choice but it’s not, it’s a way of life. You have to live it, breathe it and be passionate about it," says Shawn.
With one of his teenage daughters now working in the business and more store openings planned this year, this hard working couple have no intention of slowing down.
"Our vision is to achieve sustainable long term growth and make the right decisions moving forward. We want to see our people grow, because ultimately, that is the only way we can grow."