My Love Affair with Patricia

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My girlfriend and I are coffee lovers and definite ‘foodies’ which is why Melbourne was our favorite city during our recent trip to Australia. The choice for great coffee and incredible food exceeded our palatable expectations!

Our time in Melbourne was short – a quick three days wedged between time spent in Sydney and the Yarra Valley. We implemented our ‘go-to’ plan for all things good in an unfamiliar place – listening to the experiences of others. Every dollar we spent would be vetted by those who had come before us; We would let ‘holiday mistakes’ be discovered by others. Our limited time and spending money couldn’t be wasted.  Our decisions were based on the reviews of five core websites:

Our coffee fix was to be filtered by the cheery reviews submitted to Let me preface that it’s not easy to get awesome scores by coffee aficionados… a critical group in search for the elusive black nectar in a cup. Our research brought up several establishments and the one that stood out was the one with the most obscure name – Patricia. The people raved, and so we put it on our ‘Must Visit While We’re Here List.’

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Our first morning in Melbourne was a rainy one, but we ventured into this beautiful city founded on diversity and the arts – such a great vibe! With ponchos, we sloshed up and down streets and side alleys to no avail. We spent an hour searching for Patricia and never found her. With soaking wet socks, we gave up and ducked into Brother Baba Boudan to warm our insides and outsides. BBB had extraordinary coffee (perhaps the best cup we experienced in Oz) but gave off the heir of aloofness that turned me off. I wanted to gush to them about how great their product was but felt doing so would a). tell them something they already knew and b). make me feel incredibly uncool for doing so.

Day two had us skipping breakfast in the morning altogether. A late start had us sightseeing through more rain, but the thoughts of Patricia kept coming back to me… the coffee force was strong. The reviews on Bean Hunter were so positive, I felt that if we skipped finding her, we would regret it. By 3:30pm we went looking again. Once again, we ventured up and down alleyways (we didn’t have access to GPS as our iPhones were locked and international roaming is crazy-town expensive). As we were walking down a side street, I looked down an intersecting alley and noticed a window had been propped open with three paper coffee cups… could this be the place? As if we were in a maze located in the middle of a desert, we stumbled upon our coffee oasis. Patricia is real and she exists!! We walked in to discover it was their closing time – 4:00pm. After two days of effort had we missed our chance?

Mysterious alley-ways and a non-descript entrance.

Left: While walking past this alley, I noticed the window behind the bicycle was propped open with coffee cups.
Right: Walk up the alley and then turn right: The entrance to Patricia

Not at all. A young guy (I’d guess upper 20s) took our order and put our minds at ease. The espresso machine isn’t turned off until five to ten minutes after closing to accommodate late stragglers. We were grateful and figured we’d quickly down our coffees (two flat whites) and be on our way as they began to close up shop.

The owner of Patricia - Bowen

The owner of Patricia – Bowen Holden

While waiting for our coffee, we took in the design and atmosphere of this unique space that was standing room only, located at the end of Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole (actually it’s located on the backside of the Malawian Embassy). Everything was a mix of white and black – crisp translating feelings of quality from a past era meeting today’s modernity. The attention to detail in the design from the tile work, the bar, signage, wood, selection of coffee cup styles, crockery… everything was well thought out to match this unique theme. A stark contrast to many coffee shops that go for darker tones, darker lighting and the use of burlap. This was opposite in nearly every way – bright, polished, crisp and welcoming. I immediately felt happy that we’d gone through great effort to find it.

Our coffee was brought to us by the young guy who turned out to be the owner – Bowen. He also brought us soda water which is on-tap (just as you would if you were at a proper coffee house in Italy) and also the most decadent brownie I think I’d ever tasted – on the house! We weren’t being rushed out the door, but instead welcomed in, despite it now being ten minutes after closing time. We ended up chatting to Bowen for thirty minutes and learned why Patricia was so special.


Since the age of 14, Bowen had dreamt of being an entrepreneur owning his own coffee shop. In three short years, Patricia was being heralded as one of the best coffee shops not just in Melbourne, but the world! It’s not that Patricia serves the best coffee, but that they have curated an establishment that feels like there is a higher reason for being.

The best description I can say is that Patricia felt… authentic. It was real where you felt that the owner hadn’t created an establishment with the focus on making money first, but instead created a place of his dreams whereby the customer’s overall experience was paramount above all things. Rather than focus on the end result – the coffee, he made the coffee equally as important as the friendly service, attention to detail and the atmosphere – a killer combination.

The reputation of Patricia has become so widespread that it has been able to surpass two huge obstacles:

Location – this place is really, REALLY hard to find with signage that’s nonexistent, yet the place is BOOMING with business!! We visited Patricia on our way out of Melbourne on our final morning at 11:00am… we could barely get through the door because of the volume of people!

Left: At 11:00am it's standing room only.  Right: The experience has to be pretty good to have business people standing in a an alley next to dumpsters to socialize!

Left: At 11:00am it’s standing room only.
Right: The experience has to be pretty good to have business people standing in a an alley next to dumpsters to socialize!

Competition – Coffee shops are on every street corner in Melbourne. Building a customer base with an obscure name and location is ridiculously hard – not to mention being a startup with no advertising budget.

The level of success built by Patricia demonstrates that focusing on every point of interaction and attention to detail will light up word of mouth marketing like crazy. There are hundreds of coffee shops that have amazing coffee (with perhaps better coffee than Patricia) but are toiling to make an impact on the coffee scene because their business model is one-dimensional – just coffee as opposed to an experience.

Gaining market share in any business whether you own a plumbing company, restaurant, coffee shop or skydiving center requires looking beyond the product you sell. Being brilliant in coffee, or fixing leaky pipes or jumping from planes is what your customer’s expect. The challenge is exceeding expectations in the areas that your customers don’t expect. That’s where the magic lies and what transforms a company from good to truly great.

A Final Note:  Patricia is owned by two partners. Both of their grandmother’s shared a common name: Patricia. The café is in tribute to their memory.

About James

James La Barrie is passionate about marketing and changing a company's service culture. Originally from the Caribbean island of Antigua, James melds his approach of marketing and delivering elite service together as one. James has injected his 'service marketing' approach throughout his career to transform companies from good to great.


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