Skip to main content

Cafes focused on human connection.

Nicholas Stone is the founder and CEO of Bluestone Lane, the fastest-growing premium café brand in the United States. Almost a decade ago, Bluestone Lane reset the coffee scene, introducing New York to the flat white and its Australian-inspired café experience. Now with over 65 locations across 8 markets, Bluestone is committed to providing great café experiences that are focused on human connection.

"It's a privilege to make someone feel really special. That's our purpose and that's why it was created."

Nicholas StoneCEO, Bluestone Lane


[00:00:00] Katie: Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha Group podcast where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever-changing skies. Welcome to Building While Flying. My guest today is Nicholas Stone, founder and CEO of Bluestone Lane. The fastest growing premium cafe brand in the United States.

Almost a decade ago. Bluestone Lane reset the coffee scene, introducing New York to the flat white, along with its Australian inspired cafe experience. Now with over 65 locations across eight markets, Bluestone is committed to providing great cafes. Experience is focused on human connection. Prior to founding Bluestone, Nick’s previous lives include 11 years in corporate finance.

Fun for everyone, an advisory. And prior to that, six seasons as a professional Aussie rules football player. What a pedigree. . Welcome to 

[00:00:50] Nick: the show, Nick. Thanks, Katie. No, great to be here. Definitely an outsider to the hospitality industry, and geez, I picked a good period to dive in . I’m sure we’ll, we’ll go through uh, COVID and all the fun we’re dealing with now.

But great to be here in a and obviously uh, in a beautiful office, in a beautiful day in New York City. Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:01:08] Katie: Home. Home to Bluestone Lane, the og. Your base 

[00:01:12] Nick: here. Exactly right. First store opened in 2013 in Midtown Manhattan in the subterranean basement with Class B Office Tower.

We couldn’t afford a Class A like we are here right now. Yeah. It’s humble beginnings and I probably never thought that this would ever grow into something where I actually left my banking job. But here we are and we’re nearly at 10 years, which is, it’s bonkers. Extraordinary.

[00:01:33] Katie: Yeah. It’s awesome. Congrats. Yeah. Thank you. And so much has changed during that time. including coffee culture itself, which I think you guys had a lot to do with. When we first chatted, you mentioned that you started Bluestone out of necessity and you talk about yourself as an outsider.

Do you wanna talk a little bit about those origins just to ground us? 

[00:01:49] Nick: Yeah, sure. I’m originally from Melbourne, Australia, and Melbourne is the coffee capital, the hospitality capital of Australia. And we in Melbourne has really transitioned from drinking. Heavy British. Inspired by my peace. Yeah, the Palm influence

And when we had mass migration from Italians and Greeks and Malteses in pre and post World War ii. So in the forties, and then there’s this slow transition into espresso coffee. So we’ve never had a drip coffee culture, so you can’t get a drip. Hot brew that, that’s synonymous with US culture.

So for us, so we’ve been drinking espresso coffee for a long period of time and there was just this evolution in Australia, which incorporated leveraging more sophisticated yet accessible breakfast and lunch options. And these cafes just became much more sort of European centric. But had the access to the amazing produce that’s founded in Australia. That has just continued to. And coffee is just a way of life and the way that we think about coffee certainly when I moved to the US in 2010 was coffee was about fulfilling a need for a product. It was fulfilling a need for caffeine.

Yeah. And yeah, keep going. Yes. Keep going. Just get another big cup of Joe and for me. Coffee was a ritual. Such a critical part of my day where I’d walk in and they’d know me and they’d know my order, and they just made me feel part of the community. Mm-hmm. And I would love to go with other people and use coffee as a social medium to catch up and connect.

So when I moved here and I went to business school before I started working back , mm-hmm. , uh, at my old bank I just couldn’t believe when I’d asked people about, oh where, where’d they go from their local place and they didn’t. . Yeah. Really locals, but you couldn’t even name it kind of thing. Yeah.

It It was just like, oh, we just go wherever’s convenient. Yeah. We just go to that place for a coffee. I’m like no, no, no. Having a coffee is different in my eyes. Yeah. It’s, It’s really about this experience and this ritual, and so that really, stoked, the stoked the coals. Mm-hmm. And I started thinking about it and.

I had no experience in hospitality, so my views were pretty, pretty limited. And I had a very, very myopic view on Starbucks because in Australia, Starbucks failed. Yeah. And there’s no Duncan, there’s no cost of coffee. You would know. Yeah. There’s no Pete’s, there’s no coffee, Ben and Tealeaf.

It is the land of the independence. And that’s why I was so struck by the success of Starbucks. By serving a product that I personally wouldn’t consume. They had nailed so many things with their value proposition. I thought there must be more people like me that are looking for better quality coffee.

Yeah, better quality food, more tasteful and thoughtful atmosphere. And aesthetic. Mm-hmm. And ultimately, What do I really want? I just want that recognition piece where I walk in, they say, Hey, Stony. Hey Nick. Yeah, whatever you wanna call me. I don’t mind. They know your boss. They feel like a local, just a lot of people resonate with.

I could see it with Manny and Petty Places. Yeah, I could see it with Wash and Fold. That was a whole new phenomenon. Cause I moved to West Village and there was 10 different places where you could get your washing done and everyone had their local and they were quite. Strong about it, like patriotic about it.

I go to Jimmy’s place and he never messes up my linen or my shirts, but then they didn’t have that same affinity with coffee and I just thought, this is wild. Like this is the opposite of Australia there and. Hence Bluestone Lane a few years later. 

[00:04:57] Katie: to your point about coffee as a way of life, the European influence of coffee itself, but also that health and kind of fresh food produce side of Australia that kind of, it’s got that laid back vibe.

Yeah. The kind of like Bondi sensibilities I just got back for a week in Rome actually. And one of the things that we kept talking about my partner and. You know is you go out for a coffee there and that’s the whole stand up at the counter. Quick espresso. Yep. Chat five minutes and you’re out.

Yep. Like such a different format. And it just, it’s so interesting how different cultures 

[00:05:27] Nick: like, they both silent kind of work. Yeah. And that’s how we designed the business. We had coffee shops to begin with. We had one in Midtown Manhattan. And one next to the stock exchange in the financial district.

They had very limited seating. It really was stand up quick. 10 minute break cause I’ve gotta get back to the desk. Works well for finance. Yeah, it works really well. . And then in the third location was just over a year after, or around a year after we opened the first one in midtown Manhattan.

We opened that in West Village and that was the first time it was a cafe, which was the broader offering, which was in a residential area. And that was honestly the store that activated the brand and really gave us that north star of what the power of hospitality and what we could be. And I do think that was the category.

Shifter for everybody. And we didn’t know it was gonna be as successful as it was, you know, every Saturday or Sunday, you’re queuing over an hour to get in and, and that was horrible to me. I’m like, we have to get people through. But one of the great things about being.

Australian and the values is this humility. And how it’s so respected and treating everyone the same. And this notion of mateship and equality and I would have some of the biggest well-known celebrities coming down to Bluestone and they would just be queuing like everybody else, regular Joe Blow, Nick Stone, and I love that.

I love that it was democratized. We didn’t take reservations and there was no special treatment. Everyone was treated well and it only took a couple of weeks. And then you have Taylor Swift walk in, or you have James Franco or Leonardo DiCaprio or Cameron Diaz and then everything goes 

[00:06:56] Katie: to the 

[00:06:57] Nick: races, love it.

And then it’s just on. And ultimately they just wanted to go for a great coffee and some fresh food as well. And you know, it’s seen tremendous growth in the category. And that’s how you deal 


[00:07:07] Katie: those huge lines is you open another store. Right? Yeah. . So, We’ve talked about the beginnings and I’d love it if you could talk a little bit more about what I think does sit at the heart of the brand that you’ve talked about.

This idea of feeling like a local and connection in the context of what we then went through, which is two years of pandemic, complete shutdown. Like That was a crazy pivot. Like that you must have had to take, how did that impact the business and where did you draw from to carry you through those couple years of 

[00:07:34] Nick: pain?

one is a terrific question because ultimately that is where Bluestone is gonna win, and that is where we’re sustainable, where we make people feel like they are part of the community. Like a local, not a homogenous. Customer, it seems so transactional. It seems like there’s no feeling.

 I didn’t create bluestone because I had this need to be a barista or I had this, crazy interesting coffee and this obsession, it was because I missed, I missed the human connection. I missed walking in and just that recognition piece and Ultimately there was a big need for it prior to Covid, because we’d witnessed that. Some of these big cities like New York. New York is the best city in the world. , but it could also be one of the most lonely places in the world. Yeah. Everyone’s on the grind. you come here to make it, you don’t float in New York City.

No one floats unless you’ve got, very, very fortunate. Keeps of personal income. Yeah. Probably they happy to float your lifestyle, but that is very, few and far between and you’ve gotta come here. And ultimately it’s just a melting pot of so many different cultures and nationalities.

To talk to people in New York. They might be American, but they’re not from New York. They’ve moved here to chase a dream or what have you. So you already had this sort of loneliness and then we already had issues with this obsession with digital connectivity. Mm-hmm. almost as a substitute for human connection.

Mm-hmm. That was happening pre Covid. Yep. And then you had Covid, which was the most. , it was the most challenging issue the hospitality industry has ever faced. Yeah. Certainly in the last a hundred years. I look back when we were at war, world War ii and people used to commiserate and celebrate every day that they’re on earth at a pub, they would actually still go out and socialize and Yeah, celebrate that they’re.

That they’re here and their, maybe their brother or their father or the whatever are on the front line and they’re here keeping the, the world alive, keeping the home spirit alive. Yeah. Yes, exactly. But now suddenly you had government intervention that pulled people apart and for us, we see now that we’ve got such a tremendous issue with mental health, like people feeling isolated, people feeling lonely, people feeling like they have no friends. , the stats coming out of the us, the uk, Australia, about mental health deterioration in young people and millennials, and then Gen Z.

It’s just absolutely frightening. Yeah. And the veil, the digital veil that social media provides and this positive bias, there’s so many externalities. I’m reasonably well-read in this space and I’m really personally interested, but mm-hmm. the number one consistent piece of advice that professionals provide to someone that’s feeling depressed or down or flat, is to go out and speak to someone. Go and see someone. Human contact. of any kind. Yeah. And what is the best way to do that? There’s almost no better way than. Sitting down and having a coffee.

It’s an affordable luxury experience. It’s not alcohol. It’s open to everyone. You don’t have to have coffee, you could have hot chocolate, you can have whatever you want. we want to be known as the brand that facilitates that and Sure. If you wanna come in and get a coffee and head back to the office.

Absolutely. The key success factors for that type of engagement are very different. Mm-hmm. From when you come in with your. partner or your mom or your dad or your cousin or a schoolmate you haven’t seen for 20 years. And I think that’s, that provides just an extraordinary opportunity for Bluestone.

And because organically, that’s why this brand was created. Mm-hmm. , , it’s not trying to be manufactured. I see all these other hospitality brands talking about we wanna be hospitality focused Now it’s just bananas. It’s, you know, big service. It is. It’s a bit of hospitality washing, if you may, but, And for us that’s our purpose and that’s why it was created.

And our challenge now is like, how do we have our whole team feel like it’s a privilege to make someone feel really special? my, Amazing wife Alexandria. And it’s Valentine’s Day today, so I have to drop that Valentine’s Day. Who’s the defacto co-founder of Bluestone.

We bundle our three kids who are five and under we put ’em in the stroller and walk down a local coffee shop. All we want is that recognition piece you walk in. Hi Alex, how are you? Good to see ya Arabella and Oliver, what have you. Here’s your usual, here’s your, yeah, Here’s your usual.

Great. Just that feeling of warmth and humanity. It’s so addictive. But we are not doing it well enough consistently and work from home. And covid and tech, all these things have challenges and for us, we’ve gotta be a bit of an antidote to that, I think. Yeah. 

[00:11:40] Katie: So it’s interesting. You talked at the beginning about the success factor that caused, Starbucks explosion Yep. And the strategic advantage that sits at the core of the Starbucks world was one of convenience. Yes. And it sounds like yours is experience through and through is creating that individual 

[00:11:57] Nick: experience. That’s exactly right. We have to lead with experience, but we need to be conscious that people still have expectations around fulfillment, speed, that’s how we differentiate. Mm-hmm. and, And our core customer is very differentiated versus what you’d find at Starbucks or Duncan or any of these other mass chain brands. Yeah, no, 

[00:12:15] Katie: that makes a ton of sense. I feel like there’s two places that takes me in terms of question one is, How do you maintain that as you scale?

It’s so down to the individual treatment that your staff are giving. It’s so down to that very special, unique feeling that you walk into when you into your one in the West Village or your one in Williamsburg or whatever it is. How do you do that in a way that keeps the brand consistent as you expand?


[00:12:38] Nick: that is the biggest challenge and that is a challenge for all hospitality, but for. us Being experience led, the human connection piece and the service piece is the most important. Making a great coffee or making a great meal. There’s not that much intellectual property in that really, there’s not much intellectual property in hospitality.

Really, your IP comes from the culture, which is your team, and how they execute on the steps of service and the different processes and how they make people feel, that becomes your culture. That becomes intellectual property. Most of the best restaurants you hear about, because. of The way it made someone feel.

Less about that dish. And, I’d used that customer centricity in myself. I’ll go to a place because of how they make me feel and how we connect over that one dish was amazing, even though the service was completely impersonal and flat out awful. So for us, that is the biggest challenge and.

The role we play is to try and educate our team about the privilege and the importance and the power of making someone feel really good. you never know. We serve. about 75,000 people a week, and you just never know the story of why someone’s coming in and the background and the power you have to turn around.

A mum that’s been up all night because the young child won’t go to bed or someone walks in and their family member’s ill all, they’ve had a breakup or they just lost their job and well, they’re lonely. And it’s Valentine’s Day exactly today and all you need. How powerful is just that sincerity of eye contact.

 A smile, and to know your name like everyone loves. Someone to know their name and 

[00:14:12] Katie: instead of misspelling it, 80 ways to 

[00:14:14] Nick: send them . Yeah. And you’d know in Australia and the London coffee culture’s pretty amazing there’s been a lot of investment there. And I used to work in London in 2011 and it was ahead of New York.

Yeah. Like it really was in this fourth, fifth wave we are talking about where Starbucks was the third wave. We’re now on the fourth, fifth wave. I think that is the biggest challenge, but that is also the most amazing opportunity. And if we do it really well, then the barrier of entry for others is pretty high.

 At and what we call to achieve this notion of boutique at scale. Yeah. 

[00:14:44] Katie: Yeah. That’s so interesting. Starbucks is famous for having coined the concept of the third space. Yes. And I’m trying to figure out, What to coin as this space. When stomach 

[00:14:53] Nick: started, I think that they were very much focused on human connection, but through their commercial success, they realized that they were getting, they’re too big, too successful, and they then worked out that it was probably better to focus on convenience and speed.

Mm-hmm. And now, The huge investment in lower friction offerings. You see it in New York City. Yeah. Like how many Starbucks have closed and now they’re just order ahead a pickup window. Yeah. Starbucks started without any drive-throughs, and I think now 70% of all Starbucks stores have a drive-through.

That’s a 

[00:15:24] Katie: fascinating, yeah. So the other side of the question tied to the experience that you’ve designed is around the digital world. Your ethos is very analog. You’ve talked about this real world experience, the dangers of being too caught up in the digital world, but there is the inevitable necessity.

Needing the digital tools and platforms for a brand to expand and to exist in the similar way, even in the digital space. Can you talk a bit about how you extend that experience ethos into your digital presence? 

[00:15:55] Nick: The good thing is it’s not mutually exclusive.

It’s not, you’re either analog with, you know, using humans or you now using old tech and digital means. I think that, It’s just finding a sustainable and healthy blend. And ultimately giving the consumer a local more power and more choice. So the great catalyst for us was Covid. Mm-hmm. Because we weren’t able to serve people and have that regular notion of using the cash register or the POS system.

Yeah. So we went from say 5% digital to a hundred percent digital in the blink of an eye. That was incredibly exhilarating. And the great news is the tech, all the technology we’ve been working on worked really successfully and it was our own and it was organic and tremendous shout out to the team Liam’s team and Andy’s team and what they did.

And you know, if you look at our core customer, 70. Millennial. Yep. And millennials are and large, pretty digital centric. , They’re very confident in using their devices to pay for things. They have a lot of trust and confidence, so ultimately we were able to build these payment channels and to make it seamless.

So if you wanna order with a server, great. If you wanna order via your app, great. If you wanna order via QR code, great. If you want to use a digital iPad in this, Store, you can use that. A mobile kiosk or something. There’s all these different ways. Mm-hmm. ,, the great news and the most powerful thing about our digital stack is the loyalty program.

And the insights that we gain there. So every time there’s a transaction via the app, if you order ahead or order at the table or order for home delivery ,, or order on the e-commerce store for, say you want beans at home or you want capsules or what have you. All that data gets aggregated into one repository.

Into one warehouse. . And we then, Much better insights into the frequency, what they’re buying, what they’re spending, what they like, what they don’t like the purchase journey is. That’s great. Exactly how many Bluestone lane stores they go to each week, every 14 days, every 21 days.

Then you have all the opportunity to gamify and you have such a powerful and a cost efficient way to market to them. Mm-hmm. .. So instead of leveraging, And paying on social media or paying on Google ads or what have you, you now can market them really effectively via loyalty and, and we’ve just debuted something that was really fascinating this week as an example.

So we’re here, New York Fashion Week is taking place right now. any of our, so we have. Three levels of status, you have four levels. You have the baseline, then you have blue, green, and gold, and it’s based on spend over the last 12 months. So blues, you have to spend at least a hundred and then, you’ve got different tiers and gold, like a thousand dollars a year.

We were able to reward all of our green and gold with New York fashion. week Party tickets because we are the coffee partner for New York Fashion Week. And instead of, just giving them a discount or giving them free coffee, we said, Hey, have an amazing experience that might align with your interests.

And we are doing all the coffee, we are doing espresso martinis at night. And come to a fashion show with our partners, New York Fashion Week and Afterpay, and that was pretty incredible. You know, I’m 

[00:18:59] Katie: probably getting a bunch of buzz on that, on 

[00:19:00] Nick: social set from that. Yeah. And just to think more progressively about leveraging partnerships where we have similar core customer, they have similar.

Psychographic profile. So it’s a really cool and innovative way. And for a company of our size, like I don’t think many brands are activating or even thinking this way and Yeah. 

[00:19:19] Katie: Yeah. I was actually gonna ask about that cause it, it does feel, having looked at some of your history, that brand partnerships have actually been a really consistent part of your strategy over the years that you’ve got.

Khalifa oat milk when you launched the draft latte. Yeah. And then, Kate Hudson’s brand In Bloom. In stores. All smoothies. It sounds like the, what you are looking for as criteria for partnership is an intersection of audience. Yes. Is there anything else from a, just a values perspective or an innovation level?

[00:19:44] Nick: Perspective values, absolutely. Commitment to health, commitment to, would just say commitment to humanity. Good companies run by good people that we trust and that are doing things the right way. It certainly must have the same core customer. It needs to have a customer that’s relevant to our market position and our geographic positions Yeah. So partnering with a brand that is based in the Midwest, it’s not really relevant for us cuz we’re a coastal brand, a coastal stage. So, we’ve just had a really different approach to it as well, because being an outsider, the way I looked at it was thinking about how do I build a lifestyle brand, right?

That’s an extension of Australian lifestyle. It’s not just coffee. It’s actually all about the way you make people feel. It’s the atmosphere. It’s. The Dacon look and feel. When we launched the business, there wasn’t this whitewashed walls and blonde timber and plants that you see.

Everything made a plywood. No. Now you see everywhere it’s ubiquitous. , that was Bluestone Lane. Before that. It was all dark reclaimed woods. Yeah, it was very moody, very masculine. And that was not what you’d find the way in South Yara and Melbourne or in Bondi or Bronte. You 

[00:20:49] Katie: want everything to be flooded by sunshine.

Exactly. So 

[00:20:51] Nick: we said, no, we’ve gotta make this light. We’ve gotta make this place. Why? Why are we leveraging the fact that it’s an Al Fresco daytime offering? Yeah. And. I think just that type of thing in combined with my brother Andy, who came from agency background. So ah, yeah, he was in advertising managing big accounts in Australia.

He had Jeep Chrysler, he had ashi and he was always looking at different partnerships, whether it was sponsoring the Australian Open, Or sporting teams. He was overseeing above and below the line, and his approach has been just such a huge catalyst to some of these amazing partnerships. We’ve got a great partnership every year in Montauk.

We have this place down there and we run a coffee shop, but we always do it with a partner. Nice. Whether it’s. Frankie’s Bikinis last year and the year before. It’s been Cotton On, which is a fast fashion brand in Australia. We’re always looking for different ways to collaborate because it’s normally a win-win because coffee’s so accessible.

far more accessible than alcohol. Alcohol everyone needs to be over 21 coffee. It’s, anyone can come in. We take our kids every day. Do they drink coffee? No. That would be absolute disaster. . But they had the baby chee. Um, you know, I have a bite of avocado toast.

It’s all good. It’s, It’s very family friendly. and you know, we have this differentiated customer and we’ve got the data to back it up where a lot of people might say, oh yeah, our average core customer is, 20 to 28 and they’re 50 50. We have all the data, you’ve got all the cohorts and everything.

And we say, yeah, they go here and this is when they come and this is what they buy. They come after going to yoga and they only come on Sundays, or they come now on Mondays. Fridays and Sundays cuz they work from home. And that data’s really powerful. Yeah, I 

[00:22:33] Katie: love it.

I think it, it feels so single-mindedly tied back to experience, right? Mm-hmm. ,, like even the partnerships, every one of them, they’re actually quite focused on some of these different cohorts. They’ve all got the lifestyle angle. They all have a multi. channel angle to them. Super fun.

Yeah. And you can turn the around quickly. So there’s a whole diversity in things you can talk 

[00:22:50] Nick: about as a brand as well at same point. That’s one thing that we are so good at that agility and and focus on execution. So Reid Hoffman’s got a great saying that no one owns a good idea.

Everything’s about execution. And I repeat that at nauseum with my team, cuz literally everything’s. execution, you know, the sugar water coulda, everyone’s got a story about that, 

[00:23:10] Katie: but you’ll hear Gary use that. Something along 

[00:23:12] Nick: those lines. Pretty much, I’d imagine it’s when the rubber hits the road. And for us, like if we have an opportunity, like we can activate immediately.

Yeah. And the activation probably come from me. I’ll be like, okay, yeah, we can do it. And this is what it looks like. Yeah. Yeah. We just don’t get in there. And I love that scrappiness and every time we’ve moved away, slightly away from. The business performance is dragged and it gets corporate. Yeah. We, we just call a light on the feet lean where the rubber band is at full tension.

You don’t want us to snap , but you definitely need it, you know, hit on the edge, fully caffeine up approach. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. . 

[00:23:47] Katie: So I’ve got two last questions. One is, what’s your hot take on what the shape of.

Hospitality in the coffee space is gonna look like as we go back into this kind of hybrid. set. Is it gonna eventually rob a band back to where we were? Or do you see a new fourth way ? 

[00:24:05] Nick: Really with mixed emotions because we have a very precarious footprint based on the ways of working nowadays.

Right. And I’m a huge believer in flex and hybrid working. I came from a more traditional mindset. Bang in professional sports and then investment banking. If you weren’t at your. You know, You weren’t producing value. There was a whole FaceTime culture there and it was just, be there and grind it out.

Even if you didn’t have anything on, you gotta be there and you gotta be ready. It’s just not needed now with technology and ultimately, like we need more women in the workforce. To drive productivity, to drive efficiency.

And accessibility, and I just see that working from home enables that. , my, my wife who’s super intelligent, super driven, hardworking, got the right values really creative. Like we’ve got three young kids, like for her going to work and gonna, the office is the barrier. The friction’s too great, right?

But if she could work every day from home, even part-time, three, four. In between. Yeah. School drop off or what have you. That’s amazing because that’s someone that you want in the workforce. Yeah. So I’m a big supporter of it, but the challenge for Bluestone is we have so many of our doors in the bottom of office buildings.

Yeah. And ultimately, The biggest challenge in our business, hands down through this whole covid thing, like we got through Covid, there was government support. I think people rallied together. We made some really dramatic decisions. Landlords were supportive. Suppliers were supportive. Right now, This is with added out.

The biggest challenge I’ve got, this is the tough thing that I have a lot of stores, which are meant to be back now, but they are busy only three days a week. , we have how many in Hudson towns? Four in Hudson Yards. And three of them are only busy really three days a week. So how do you run a business when you have no Monday anymore?

You certainly have no Friday. New York Summer. Fridays, guess Friday, summer Fridays in New York was a real thing. Now this summer Fri, it’s just. Friday is no long. It’s a four day work week. Honestly, right in most of the cities we’re in now, people do not go in to work on Friday. Now, if you’re, if you’re a small business in the bottom of an office lobby or around the corner, it’s gonna be incredibly hard.

Your whole cost structure’s upside down. Mm-hmm. Now you can’t pay people less. Participation rate is still too low. So you don’t have any flex there. You’ve got a lot of landlords that, signed leases and they might have provided they’re all getting itchy feet too.

Yeah, Yeah. Abatement and support. And now they’re like, okay, you gotta be back to paying full rent. But the problem is, I used to have five days of business, let’s say wipe the weekend. Now I’ve only got three. There’s a huge reckoning that’s happening right now. It’s going.

Pretty awful. I think all cities and governments are really focused on like how they play a role here. But you’re gonna see the hollowing out of a lot of these sort of business districts because it’s not sustainable if people are only working two to three days.

Yeah. And I’m a supporter of hybrid, but I just see the challenges and I, 

[00:26:55] Katie: I see it myself. We are all back hybrid now in the Sasha vena world and. , I feel like the center of gravity of so many of those business services is shifting. Yeah. The hollowing out of the center of the commercial space.

But then what’s springing up like in my area of . East Williamsburg is a really active community of people who are getting out of their house cuz they’ve been on Zoom calls for six hours straight and need to go grab coffee or whatever. Yeah. So I guess there could be a refocusing.

where the spaces are.

[00:27:23] Nick: There’s a pivot to residential areas without a doubt now, and we’ve found the tailwinds there. If we generate 65% of sales at our residential stores whether it’s urban resi or suburban rei, we had very limited suburban exposure. Prior to Covid, we only had one suburban stores.

But what’s happening? . Yeah. They would get 65% of sales on the weekend, but now it’s more balanced because people are coming Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And so it’s just, it’s recalibrating your real estate strategy and trying to do it in a way that manages the cost of exit, the operating leverage.

Right. And not everyone has capital They’ve got through covid, which might have been just survival. And now you’re saying, Close at the bottom of an office building or close around the corner from an office tower and then move to open in Green Point or Boro Hill. Or Hoboken. Or Williamsburg.

Not everyone has, 

[00:28:15] Katie: yeah, it’s not as easy as clicking 

[00:28:18] Nick: a million dollars and that’s sad because who really pays the price for that? It’s the small, independent creative. Artisanal operators, the chains, they’re fine. Put a new Sweet Green or Chick-fil-A or something that they got money, they can do it.

What I care about is small guys they make up the commerce in society. It’s still run by small business. Right. They’re not run by the big, the beating heart 

[00:28:41] Katie: of the economy. Without a 

[00:28:43] Nick: doubt. Yeah. It’s something that we’ve all gotta consider and even as a consumer, like think about it, just be kind like a lot of these businesses, where are you putting your money?

Yeah. Have really been through the ringer and they survived Covid after being told by the government that you are not allowed to operate and you cannot serve people like that. They have to stay home. And then now they’re allowed. And there’s no one to sell to. Like you just, I think it’s just being really conscious that this challenge is real and ongoing.

[00:29:10] Katie: Yeah. It didn’t just suddenly end with the quote unquote end, not really of the pandemic. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. On the more positive side, final question. Yeah. . What are you most excited about this year? I mean, you’ve got so many irons in fires. Mm. You’ve got the retail you’ve got the e-com side, you’ve got a bunch of products, you’ve got all sorts of partnerships.

What’s the most exciting thing? That you’re looking at understand? Yeah, 

[00:29:30] Nick: I there’s a couple of things. We’re pushing more aggressively into Texas and that was a big leap for us. So that’s a new market. We opened another location there on tomorrow in Rice Beach in Houston.

So there you go. I think that’s really interesting for us because, an Australian premium, Hospitality, coffee, lifestyle brand in Texas, in the heart of Texas. I love it. So I that’s a really big challenge for us, but I think it’s a great opportunity. So I’m excited about that because if that market entry continues to grow, then I think the scalability of the brand’s really exciting.

Ultimately we’ve brought in a lot of new team members to help us scale up our platform. , build a more robust infrastructure so that we can go fast. , and I think this year we really need to focus on that. the abundance of capital and the appetite to grow has changed a lot in the last six months.

So really now it’s like really just sticking to your knitting, making sure that whatever you do, you do it well and sustainably and profitably. So for us, we are opening, got six to 10 opens this. , but we just gotta make sure everything’s right. Yeah. Because the acceleration will come back.

Obviously the movement, the velocity, interest rate increases and everyone’s a little bit on the sidelines. So I think just getting that platform right to accelerate again, we’ve had a great open, our first ever airport location, so we opened in. Terminal A, the new terminal A in Newark. That was pretty cool.

Getting a congrats. I’m Flying home on Friday. I live in California outta terminal A, so get my bluestone before I get on the plane. That’s a big per, that’s a big 

[00:31:07] Katie: deal. That’s a major planning. That’s that’s a reason to go to Newark when that is typically goes jfk, 

[00:31:12] Nick: that’s terminals pretty good, actually.

Must, that’s a, there’s a plug there, there’s lots and personally, I’m always learning and evolving and, you can’t take life for granted and. I get a lot of energy just with being with our locals, being with the team, and, I just, I think this year’s, I think this year’s gonna be really great.

And why shouldn’t it be, you know, you just gotta keep keep moving forward, keep evolving. It’s never as good or as, never as bad as you think, and just, be open to opportunities. And it’s amazing what. 

[00:31:40] Katie: I love it and stay true to an ethos, which you know, you’ve got such clear eyes about, which is fantastic.

Well, It’s been such a pleasure speaker with you, Nick, having so much for joining us. 

[00:31:50] Nick: Oh, pleasure. It was,

[00:32:00] Katie: thanks for joining us for Building. While Flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson, Mickey Cloud, Maribel Lara, and Joe Quattrone will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Human connection in a digital world.

Nicholas Stone is the founder and CEO of Bluestone Lane, the fastest-growing premium café brand in the United States. Almost a decade ago, Bluestone Lane reset the coffee scene, introducing New York to the flat white and its Australian-inspired café experience. Now with over 65 locations across 8 markets, Bluestone is committed to providing great café experiences that are focused on human connection.

In his conversation with Katie Hankinson, Nick shares how getting coffee in his home in Australia felt more like a communal experience whereas in America it was all about convenience. He started Bluestone Lane to try to recreate the Australian experience in the US. He discusses the challenges of COVID, human connection in a digital world, scaling, and adjusting to a hybrid workforce.

In-flight topics:

  • His origins and the cultural coffee differences in the US and Australia
  • Getting through COVID
  • The power of hospitality and making people feel special
  • Choosing the right brand partnerships
  • Adjusting to the hybrid workforce
  • …and more!
Connect with Nicholas Stone:

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA