- Cut running costs and increase revenue by making sustainable business decisions
'The café started to grow very rapidly and we had to organise what amounted to a complete rebuild.'
The Mansfield Regional Produce Store is a thriving café business on High Street, easily identified by three yellow umbrellas that shelter the footpath tables.
When Dean and Gill Belle took over the cafe in 2007, they were buying into a building that was over 100 years old, draughty in winter, hot in summer and with 'a concrete floor, one stove and a bathroom style exhaust fan.'
Regional produce, tastings and wine had previously been the focus of the business. The kitchen simply wasn't going to be adequate for what Dean and Gill had in mind – an expanded café that catered to a high volume of discerning local and visiting clientele.
Adapting sustainable practice in a historic space
To upgrade the café, Dean and Gill needed to balance compliance, cost savings and a commitment to sustainable business practices.
'We're in an historic building and we've had to adapt; we've had to make changes.'
An older space built before modern regulations also made energy efficiencies difficult.
Mansfield's climate ranges from hot and dry in summer to very cold in winter. Like many buildings from the 1800s, the ceiling was not insulated.
Heating efficiencies include draught management
'We upgraded our kitchen exhaust fans to be compliant, and then we found that we needed to take a look at our heating.'
In winter, the extra strength exhaust was pulling cold air through the gaps in the bi-fold windows and dragging a cold draft across the legs of customers. Dean used an infrared thermometer gun to take temperature measurements and find cold airflow, then stopped the gaps with draught stoppers and taped over gaps in window frames.
As well as draught management, Dean and Gill upgraded the heater, and re-used an exhaust fan in reverse with a window open in the kitchen to ensure less warm air was being sucked up into the outside air. In summer, the store uses evaporative cooling, and is on a timer so that during the six coolest hours of the night, the cooler runs with just the fan to push all the warm air out and ensure the day starts with a cool building.
'It was a bit of common-sense. At times I would ask Google a question, or I would read restaurant and catering industry magazines. '
Choosing the right insulation
When the roof cladding was being replaced Dean and Gill took the opportunity to add a layer of insulation. Even with draught management, heating the café in winter used a large amount of energy. 'We have very high ceilings, and the door opens four or five hundred times a day.'
Choosing how to insulate was challenging. 'We had limited time available and a limited budget, and there were many factors involved in the decision.' They installed a thin skin of insulation – one of the less expensive options available. 'In hindsight, I'm not sure it was the right decision but we didn’t have the information we needed to make a properly informed choice.'
Energy-efficient lighting in a multi-use space
An early decision was to change the light globes from incandescent to compact fluorescent. Their lighting needs were more complex than simple 'on-off'.
'We run music nights here, so we wanted compact fluorescents that we could dim.'
Research was done by 'searching the web and finding some options'. At the time, dimmable compact fluorescents were new – and expensive. With ten globes required for the space the initial outlay was a significant investment, particularly when the globes didn't last anywhere near the estimated 2000 hours.
'It can be a challenge to calculate capital outlay versus the return, when you have to consider cash flow. That can be a hard calculation to make, without all the information at your fingertips.'
'Refrigeration and ventilation are the big consumers of electrical energy.'
Dean and Gill knew from experience that they needed to clean the refrigeration condensers regularly to reduce equipment breakdowns and energy usage.
'We learned the hard way, by being in the hospitality business for as long as we have.'
'The small electrical hot water system didn't meet the needs of the growing business.'
Dean and Gill researched options for a new hot water service by asking others in the industry and doing their own calculations, factoring in their hot water needs, the kind of space they had available and the cost of different options.
'It was frustrating – trying to make an informed decision. In the end we just had to make a call and we decided on gas.'
Replace or repair
'Our dishwasher was breaking down regularly.'
Dean and Gill had to decide whether to keep fixing their dishwasher or replace it.
'We took advantage of the Department of Environment and Primary Industry (DEPI) Community water rebates program which gave us an incentive to purchase a more sustainable model.'
The refrigeration unit in the coolroom was also old and needing regular repairs.
'A new mechanic, with more training, helped us understand that upgrading to a new more efficient model would be more cost effective than continually patching the old unit.'
In the eight years they have been running the business, Dean and Gill Belle have expanded it with more seating, more stock, a 500% increase in revenue and a kitchen that meets modern standards. Their approach to sustainable practices and energy efficiency has contributed significantly to their growth and success.