CUFF – A celebration of the culinary Melbourne experience and a nod to the history that houses it.
It’s no secret that Melbourne is a labyrinth of hidden culinary experiences. Tucked in between skyrise buildings, under heritage bridges, and down coveted lanes, Melbourne treats those willing to venture off the beaten track (aka the M1) to an unforgettable enchantment of multicultural food experiences. It was this same magic that drew Paawan to the charms of Old Melbourne and to the large gold framed doors of 325 Flinders Lane, above which, a sign wrote, Cuff. When he first walked up the steps to Cuff, ZEST was already a part of the mix, but little did we know what Paawan had in mind for this café and the simple but effective vision that would aid him to the extraordinary growth Cuff enjoys today!
If you visit Cuff you’re bound to notice the heritage that surrounds this modern oasis. It’s no surprise that this building, best known as Customs House, has been around for a while. First home to a thriving rag trade, Customs House had a front-row seat to the rise of Melbourne’s textiles boom. The name Cuff is a nod to the thousands of seamstresses, many of them immigrants, who worked hard to forge a new life in young Australia. Now due to ‘The Lane's' close proximity to the wharf, CBD, and Melbourne’s pumping food scene, Flinders stages a new scene of food, fashion, and luxurious accommodation.
Cuff today. A thriving coffee and wine house, with a simple philosophy of being passionate and providing stellar customer service.
As a longstanding café partner to ZEST Coffee, it was well overdue that we took you behind the machine to learn how a simple, but passion-driven philosophy can grow a café from good to exceptional.
In November 2017, Paawan began his first entrepreneurial venture with Cuff. The following quote from an interview with Paawan sums up the backbone of Cuff’s exponential growth since that day, 'At Cuff, we always focus on the basics. Our aim has always been to ensure we provide consistent service, food, and ambiance to our customers. Recognising our customers is extremely important, as we want to ensure that everyone who comes to our venue is greeted, treated, and bid farewell as genuinely as we possibly can. It’s been so many years, but our focus has never shifted'.
It's no surprise that this simple philosophy has racked up a healthy list of improvements for Cuff. Since that day back in Nov 2017, Cuff’s focus morphed from café to coffee and bar.
Coffee volume has increased by 68% and now 90% of his customers are returning locals.
The pillars of such success at Cuff have always been People, Product, and Marketing. ‘People need to be passionate, caring and genuine, Product must be consistent and authentic, Marketing must be clear, appropriate and fun’. Failure to execute any of the three will quickly cancel out any efforts in the others. As Paawan explained, ‘all of these things have to work together’.
Just entering Cuff is an experience. Push open the large doors to an open foyer, climb the semicircular tiled stairs of the old Customs House and to the right is Cuff. Trust us, you won’t miss it, you can see right in through the floor to ceiling modern glass walls, framed by modern black beams. The same glasshouse feel runs through to the venue’s entire street front, again, floor-to-ceiling windows allow plenty of natural light to fill the dining area. Those who get in first can enjoy an elevated seat that looks down and along the bustle of Flinders. The layout of the café works a treat for both dine-in and takeaway service.
We love that the first thing you see walking into Cuff is their gorgeous white, 3 group Synesso coffee machine. From this enormous bar, you can not only grab a latte or a batch brew, but you can treat yourself to a delicious bite to eat from the glass display. If you're blessed with some spare time, sit in and enjoy a signature three-bean salad. Planning on stopping by to unwind after work? Cuff has you covered with a decadent wine and cocktail list. Enjoy a modern and relaxed setting, lit by studio lighting, and defined by the culture of people and passion.
As visitors to Cuff, we got to appreciate the venue, the people, and the product the most. Without fail, each person is greeted, seated, or served at the takeaway bar. And as we were hanging around, we ordered up on a Cuff favourite, the fish and the pork tacos. After licking the last of the sticky pulled pork from our fingers, it became clear that the same high standard rang true in each product.
The menu is all about the seasons, an authentic and international range of comfort-style food. Always fresh ingredients, always the best flavour.
If coffee is what you came for then you are in for a treat. Cuff has ZEST’s Blackbird Blend on the house for all milky coffee and Libertango Blend for long blacks and espressos. This blend of Colombian and Brazilian specialty grade beans makes for a punchy but complex cup, featuring toffee and nutty flavour notes.
For the filter fans amongst us, you can enjoy a lavish round of seasonal micro-lots. At the time of visiting I enjoyed the Burundi Mageyo – wow talk about a mouthful of mandarin and vanilla! While we are humbled to supply the coffee beans, it’s thanks to the passion and experience each barista pours into your coffee that you’ll enjoy such a great experience every time.
It’s not often you find a café that you can confidently know you’ll get a great cup every time. We know this because Paawan and his team care about what they serve their customers. The investment in great equipment and coffee service speaks to this passion. The Cuff team ensures the equipment is clean and set up appropriately; recipes, yield, temperature, dose, etc. Everything is correct - every day, every hour, every minute, and at the end of the day, if something is wrong, they’ll fix it, no questions asked.
Leaving Cuff we felt inspired and refreshed. Despite the towering competition and today’s uncertainty, growth is still possible. With enough persistence, the Melbourne hospitality market is sure to resume her pre-COVID glory and perhaps with a few added extras! It’s a fitting touch to finish with a final quote - ‘If we work on anything we are passionate about, we will never work a single day in our life’.