After 11 years, Kinfolk is pouring its last coffee - but its still catering for impact
15 July 2021 at 8:11 am
Following a tough 12 months through the pandemic, social enterprise cafe Kinfolk is set to close its doors for good. We sat down with founder Jarrod Briffa to talk about the lessons learnt and what’s to come.
When Jarrod Briffa opened Kinfolk, a cafe situated in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, 11 years ago, there weren’t many other businesses like it.
It wasn’t just a spot for office workers to get a good cup of coffee or a delicious meal, it was a hub that provided hospitality training to people with barriers to work, as well as being a place for social connection and a community to be a part of.
The cafe’s profits were also donated to a rotating list of Australian charity partners.
Since it opened, over 1,000 volunteers have been through the enterprise, with the business growing to a point that a second venue was needed. In 2018, Briffa opened a sister cafe, Sibling, in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne.
But like most CBD businesses, Kinfolk has struggled to financially recover from the elongated shutdowns of 2020, as well as the weeks spent in snap lockdowns this year.
Briffa told Pro Bono News that while they held on for as long as they could, it got to a point where they were left with no other option but to officially close the doors at the end of July.
“With the volume of traffic and [lack of] people in the CBD at the moment, we just couldn’t do it,” he said.
“Since making the official announcement we’ve had so many people come to us to tell us stories about how meaningful volunteering had been for them and how they’d found us in a really tough time in their life.
“It really was a place where people felt safe.”
But while the cafe may be closing its doors, it is not the end for Kinfolk.
A shift in focus, for good
The outbreak of COVID saw many businesses temporarily flip their business models, and Kinfolk was no exception.
“We pivoted pretty hard early on in the pandemic and moved into operating as an online grocery store to keep our staff and volunteers busy, and stay afloat financially,” Briffa said.
Because there was no longer any profit to donate to charity partners, he said they also had to rethink the way they were creating impact.
“We had lots of stock early on that we didn’t know what we were going to do with, we had a lot of people that we were trying to keep employed and we had kitchens that were sitting underutilised,” he said.
“So with that in mind, we decided to move our impact into food relief and started producing relief meals.”
Throughout 2020, Kinfolk staff cooked, packaged and delivered more than 17,000 relief meals.
Food costs for the program have so far been largely covered by StreetSmart Australia, as well as donations from customers and supporters, with meals going predominantly towards women in crisis situations, and struggling international students.
“I think [the food relief program] is a really good way for us to leverage our resources and skills to support people doing it tough, so we definitely plan to keep that going,” Briffa said.
During the lockdown period, Kinfolk staff also spent time developing their hospitality training program, and through a partnership with the Fitzroy Learning Network trainees will leave with an accredited certificate in hospitality training.
“So there’s definitely been opportunities throughout the pandemic, but it has been tough because you’re constantly in survival mode,” Briffa said.
The demand for social enterprise is bigger than ever before
Briffa said that the issues Kinfolk was trying to tackle, such as social isolation and exclusion, were only exacerbated during the pandemic, highlighting the importance of social enterprises.
“I think about the people that came through our training program pre-COVID, people who for some reason were facing social isolation and social exclusion… Kinfolk became a place where they felt they were included, a place where people gave them time and support for them to develop their skills and confidence, and develop friendships,” he said.
“So from a social enterprise perspective, it’s [the pandemic has] only drawn more attention to the fact that people are facing these challenges in our communities and they need support from programs that social enterprises run.”
He said that collaborative initiatives such as the Moving Feast collective (which Kinfolk was a part of in the early stages of the pandemic) were key to supporting the industry and creating a bigger impact.
“The Moving Feast collective was achieving change in such a short amount of time that no one organisation could have done,” he said.
“The social enterprise sector really doesn’t collaborate enough, so I think that this has shown us what’s possible in the future, and how we can leverage those resources and skills to do some amazing things.”
Full steam ahead
As the end of the month quickly approaches, Briffa said the main priorities were getting the training program up and running at full capacity, and growing the organisation’s catering and events company.
“We are definitely getting a lot of interest at the moment for our events and catering… Melburnians really want to get back together, that’s been made very clear to us,” he said.
“It’s tough though, because every time there’s an outbreak and we go back into a lockdown, the industry takes a big hit.
“We just have to keep going.”