Tait Burge, owner of Swimsuit Coffee, is swimming against the tide of cafe closures and has expanded his business beyond Wellington’s central business district.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not deterred the 27-year-old from his goal of establishing three locations by the age of 30.
Swimsuit Coffee on Dixon St in the city had been open for ten months prior to the arrival of Covid-19 in 2020.
Burge and business partner William Bridewell-Roberts, also 27, opened their second cafe in Miramar at the end of last year, just weeks before Omicron knocked on the door.
Burge acknowledged that the timing was not ideal when the Park Rd site became available in November.
“However, it was one of those things where, if we didn’t act, we might not have another opportunity to do anything here.
“We reasoned that if people work from home, we would visit them.”
Burge, who lives in Seatoun, has always wished to open a cafe in the eastern suburbs. The site is one of the last of its kind in Miramar, Burge said.
He had a gut instinct that it might work, and so he went for it.
Burge completed the cafe’s fitout in 27 days, on top of his regular hours at the town cafe.
“It was pretty relentless, and you had to keep a smile on your face or you’d become drained and burnt out.”
Burge explained that while he was still quite young, he developed itchy feet and desired to continue moving the business forwards.
“We are not allowing Covid to pull us back or stop us, despite the fact that there have been numerous hiccups along the way.”
In some cases, the pandemic has accelerated business decisions, such as an iced beverage line Burge desired to launch while two locations were operational.
Rather than that, the range was launched in the dead of winter, when only the CBD location was open, in order to generate additional revenue.
It was a success, with approximately 200 bottles flying out the door weekly.
Operating a new cafe on top of an existing business in the middle of the Omicron wave hasn’t been easy.
Burge has “freaked out” on occasion, but he has learned to take a step back and view each obstacle as something to overcome.
Burge has also benefited from the support of other industry players, and he encourages his peers to reach out for a chat.
Burge stated that this year has been the most difficult for hospitality in recent memory, and it’s been heartbreaking to see other businesses close their doors.
“It’ll be interesting to see if the city’s culture can be reestablished, because I don’t believe people realise how much of a positive environment hospitality contributes to a city.
“Even more so in a city like Wellington, where we’re known for our excellent coffee and food. If all the good ones leave, what will be left?”
Burge described the pandemic as a wild ride for Swimsuit.
The cafe in Miramar has been doing well, although business is quite variable on a daily basis.
While the city’s cafes have been quiet, signs of life are beginning to return. Burge claimed that Saturdays were particularly insane.