August 8, 2014

Globe-trotting coffee pioneer finds his place in the cloud

Two decades before establishing St. ALi, one of Melbourne’s most loved and respected coffee shops, café iconoclast and game-changer Salvatore Malatesta was headed down a very different career path.
“I was a suited-up tax lawyer working crazy hours for an inner city firm … and hating it. I knew within a few months that tax law wasn’t for me, but I stuck it out for two years before leaving to pursue my real passions in life: brilliant food, coffee and café culture,” Salvatore said.
Spurred on by his Italian heritage and memories of a childhood filled with the aroma of coffee, Salvatore established his first café in 1993 at the tender age of 21 while studying Law at Melbourne University.
Salvatore’s coffee journey started when he was young. He grew up in a household where the smell of freshly-brewed coffee was the norm and celebrated in his house. And yet, he struggled to find a decent cup at uni. So that heritage, together with the need for a good caffeine fix, was the inspiration for setting up a café on-campus.
But good coffee wasn’t the only thing lacking on campus. A lack of culinary options also drove Salvatore to set up Plush Fish, one of Melbourne’s first sushi bars.
“A lot of students, myself included, were desperate for a decent bite to eat, but the only thing on the menu was heart-attack material. So I found a small shopfront, set up Plush Fish, and it took off.”
When it came to graduation time, Salvatore had 15 cafés to his name, a newfound love for specialty coffees and a head brimming with new ideas. This entrepreneurial spirit not only laid a solid foundation for Salvatore’s future business ventures such as St. ALi, it also gave rise to his game-changing view of the café scene, and the way he’s disrupted the status quo.
Specialty coffees were the real eye-opener for Salvatore and paved the way for the point of difference in his business. At the time, people viewed coffee a certain way. Salvatore disrupted the coffee industry by positioning coffee as a celebration of the work farmers have done, rather than just another commodity.
It’s this unique take on an industry, and a challenging of conventions, that leads one to draw parallels between Salvatore’s game-changing work ethic and the disruption Xero has created in the accounting space.
“I’m not just an early adopter. I like to align myself with brands that share my passion for shaking things up. Xero has done that in the accounting space, taking something I used to dislike – accounting – and making it fun, accessible and easy to do, from wherever I am: airports, music festivals, propped up in bed – and overseas.”
With St.ALi coffee houses firmly entrenched in café scenes in Melbourne, Sydney and London – together with a range of popular specialty coffee roasting brands – Salvatore’s expansion plans show no bounds. With Paris, Berlin, New York and Tokyo in his sights, it’s no wonder he uses Xero to keep track of his business.
“We want to grow and expand and go global, but we want to do it in the right way, retaining our brand essence across every touch point. Keeping a close eye on the numbers plays a big part in all that – as does Xero, of course.”
While Salvatore had heard the Xero name bandied about, it took a meeting with his business advisor (over coffee, of course) for him to ditch his desktop package once and for all and convert to Xero.
Said Jane Meinert, Salvatore’s business advisor from Base Ten Advisory: “Salvatore’s a busy guy with a lot going on: retail venues and wholesale operations, as well as other business interests. He has several accountants on-the-ground, and we work with him on an advisory level, so Xero’s been a great way to make sure we’re all on the same page and facilitate accurate collaboration between all parties.”
Having handled the conversion to Xero for Salvatore, Jane and the team have been focused on getting the most out of Xero. With faster ways of capturing data and better reconciliation methods, the St. Ali team are on the path for more efficiency and control. Jane added:
“Xero has allowed Salvatore to use those small pockets of free time, when he’s in a taxi or stuck at an airport, to check in on the numbers across his businesses, and we’ll often log in at the same time to chat about how the various businesses are travelling financially.”
Despite his high profile in the food and beverage scene, Salvatore still has a well-considered answer to the question: what do you do with yourself?
“While I’m in charge of 500 staff and have to inspire and lead them, I also see myself as a futurist who is always thinking about what hot new idea is around the next corner. Xero has, through its convenience and ease of use, freed up my time, giving me the headspace to focus on new ideas and the future of my business. Because that’s what it’s all about: looking after the now and the future – and doing both of those things really, really well.”
To find out more about Xero, visit

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