Customer Story: The Alchemist Espresso
Kiki Zhou & Zac Lu recently took over ownership of The Alchemist in Cammeray after making the extraordinary decision many of us only dream of: leaving their corporate jobs and starting up a business.
Tucked away on a residential street, The Alchemist is a hidden gem that’s become a favourite in the local neighbourhood, and is known for it’s great food, great coffee, and focus on community.
And that focus on community is one of the things Kiki was instantly drawn to. “All of my customers - now they are MY regular customers - they are very nice, polite and encouraging. They have very high tolerance for us as we learn the ropes! That’s the thing I like about the community, I barely knew this area. Since working here, I now know the neighbourhood really well”
The Alchemist was named by its former owner, who used to be a chemist, but for Kiki, the Alchemy theme has its own special meaning. “For me, it’s a formula. Of course the coffee is nice, the food is beautiful, and the staff is awesome. But it’s the formula behind the cafe. It’s a happy formula. We try to deliver our concept to all of our customers - a happy life, a positive energy, delivering that happy formula to our staff. So it’s all about people I guess, and that’s why people like the place.”
The formula truly shines when it comes to the food and drink on the menu. Kiki and the team focus on delivering meals with precision - with a focus on using the best ingredients, the perfect ratios. Zac adds “Every coffee is amazing, the food is high quality - how much sauce are we putting in, how many chicken breasts - precisely measured and considered”
Their passion and dedication to their food, service, and community means they’ve grown a reputation for some truly standout dishes. While the avocado smash with feta is one of their most popular meals, one of their standout dishes is the chicken sandwich. The perfect embodiment of The Alchemist formula at work, they have transformed a cabinet staple into something truly delicious - bursting with perfectly cooked chicken, and an explosion of flavour with their unique dressing of creamy mayo, herbs, greens and beetroot relish. Other best-sellers include the Açai bowl, set to make a comeback after many requests from customers; the superfood salad, the chai latte and the green vitality smoothie.
The focus on quality food has also been important when working with suppliers, and is one of the reasons Luxe Bakery has been a perfect fit. Kiki orders sourdough (both the white sourdough and soy and linseed) for her smash-hit sandwiches and brunch items, and the croissants are a menu staple “People just love the plain croissants or a simple ham and cheese”. Her dedication to crafting the best quality food means the luxurious Almond Croissants, made with handmade almond paste are a perfect match “I love the almond croissants. Huge fan. Chunky, but sweet!”
One of the ways Kiki is bringing her personal style to the cafe is a focus on seasonal items. A number of new menu items are in the works, including warm winter salads, and they have had great success ordering Easter specials from Luxe. The hot cross buns have been an instant hit, and once again Kiki has injected her creativity and unique style by serving them as an ice cream sandwich. The Easter Cookies from Luxe have also been a huge success with kids and adults. “They just sell themselves!” says Kiki.
Having a smooth transition was really important to Kiki, who spent 6 months looking for a cafe that would be the right fit, and even travelled to Europe with her husband to look for ideas and inspiration to bring to the business.
Kiki was instantly drawn to the Alchemist from the minute she first visited “When you pop in to a new cafe or restaurant, you just love it, or you hate it. There’s no one reason. It’s the atmosphere, the interior design, the staff - who now work with me - they’re all awesome!” As both Kiki and her husband came from corporate finance backgrounds, starting a hospitality business has meant a lot of challenges, and a lot of lessons to learn, but the previous owners, the staff and the cafe regulars have been really supportive. “We tried to make the transition as quiet and smooth as possible. Luckily the previous owners had amazing staff. People are the key to the business”
Opening a cafe has been a huge item for Kiki to tick off her bucket list, and despite the 5am starts and long days as she gets into the swing of running the business, Kiki is loving every minute of it. “Everyone says ‘dream come true’! And yes, it is fun and exciting, but it’s a lot of hard work! But it’s OK, because it’s MY business! When it’s your business, you know what you need to do and you know you’re going to like it, so you always have the energy to do it, and keep doing it better.”