MILKLAB caught up with Steve Fulton of SOHO Coffee Roasters, to discuss the journey to becoming one of Adelaide’s leading specialty coffee providers, and his exciting future plans.
In this first in a series of interviews with some of our roaster partners across the country, we’ll touch on everything from the ins-and-outs of running a coffee business, to disco balls, dancing, and building a great team — plus everything in between. Let’s dive in.
SOHO has been a happy MILKLAB partner for many years, so we know each other’s brands well.
When asked about how MILKLAB stands apart from other alternative milk brands, Steve explained that he views this as a relationship that goes deeper than sales and branding. “MILKLAB is more than just a brand to us; they're our business partner,” he said.
“[MILKLAB] genuinely cares about assisting our team and our customers, in addition to producing milk that complements our products,” he added.
It’s a collaboration that extends to taking a holistic look at how to improve things. “We have conversations about what works, what can be better, and what we predict will be our focus for great business going forward,” he said.
Soon, the conversation naturally flows to ‘Hot Donna’, SOHO’s roaster machine, which has become a bit of a legend in its own right.
Donna has quite the origin story, Steve explained, casting his mind back to the night she was named. “It was about 1 AM, we were a few whiskies deep, and we were rushing to get everything ready for our grand opening in 2017,” he began. “We are literally days from opening the doors and we’d already decided that every roastery should have a disco ball. The disco ball was hung directly above the roaster’s chair, and someone yelled out 'Her name is Hot Donna!’ (in reference to Donna Summer) then blasted 'Hot Stuff' on our brand new Bose sound system,” he continued.
This soon led to an impromptu dance party and a welcome break from the intensity of planning the opening. Steve continued, “It was one of those perfectly timed moments where we all let go for a few minutes and started busting some moves. I don’t think I’ve ever danced like that, and the name just stuck. Hot Donna was born!”
Today, the disco ball still hangs sparkling above Hot Donna, watching over the daily roasts and awaiting the next party.
Discussing SOHO’s future, Steve laid out his growth plans. “We're opening more strategically placed branded sites,” which will include one at Adelaide Airport and another on Pirie Street in the CBD. Another prominent CBD spot is planned to open on North Terrace in the coming months. “We're also planning locations with additional roasting facilities, technical workshops, and equipment showroom space,” he added.
SOHO operates a licensing model in which licensee partners own and operate their locations. This allows them to benefit from SOHO’s strong brand while also adding to its appeal, in line with agreed standards. “We measure this very carefully through customer reviews and the feedback has been amazing,” he said.
When it comes to creating a rewarding culture, Steve couldn't be prouder of his team. “We have an amazing team of customer-focused individuals,” he explained. “Most of the team have owned, or own, their own business, so they have a real sense of ownership and autonomy.”
“Everyone realises that although they are excellent at their own job, it takes more than that and we must work as a team to be at our very best,” he said.
Steve explained that satisfying a variety of client preferences requires a dynamic approach to service. “It’s important to engage with clients and listen to their interests and needs,” he said.
SOHO is also proud to support young people looking to build a career in coffee, such as Maddie, who is following her dream of becoming a roaster.
“Maddie approached us three years ago as a barista. She had always dreamt of being a coffee roaster,” Steve said. One of SOHO’s former roasters, Kat, warmly took Maddie under her wing and acted as her mentor. "Within 12 months, [Maddie] was well on her way to fulfilling her dream. We are so proud of her!"
Finally, we discussed Adelaide’s coffee culture. “The scene has really ignited recently,” Steve said. “We're starting to see more venues really push the café culture and produce some amazing products and experiences.”
When asked how Adelaide's coffee culture differs from other cities in Australia, Steve observed that Adelaide’s relatively smaller size makes for a different industry dynamic to the bigger cities. “Adelaide has a large number of small-batch roasters offering a range of single origins.”
He explained that a diverse mix of smaller roasters makes for an enlightening experience for cafés and individuals, who get to explore a broad variety of the many different flavours and expressions coffee has to offer.
Naturally, we were keen to know which of our products was Steve’s favourite. And if you’re a plant-based milk fan, his answer probably won’t come as a surprise: “[MILKLAB] Almond Milk is simply the best!”
Discover milk for coffee that’s made with, and made for baristas in the MILKLAB range.
MILKLAB is holding a FREE MILKLAB Coffee Day at 8 participating cafes across Australia to celebrate 8 amazing years! Also find out how you can claim 1 in 1,000 vouchers to cover your next MILKLAB coffee!