Roastery ignites new possibilities for The Kookaburra

Caleb Eberle, director of roasting production for The Kookaburra, roasts Brazilian beans at the company’s St. Augustine Shipyard roastery and espresso bar on Sept. 5. (Christina Kelso/ The St. Augustine Record)

Since first opening The Kookaburra in a 420-square-foot cubbyhole storefront on Cathedral Place in 2012, owners Megan Vidal and Spencer Hooker have cultivated their Aussie-American coffee shop into a rapidly evolving St. Augustine icon.

“We just felt like there was a need for good coffee and some cool Aussie treats, and thought that maybe we could put a fun spin on coffee in St. Augustine,” Vidal said.

From its little downtown footprint, “The Kook” has grown to include two larger, buzzing community-hub locations – one at the intersection of State Road 312 and U.S. 1, and one in St. Augustine Beach. By February, it was poised for even greater expansion with the opening of a roastery and espresso bar in the St. Augustine Shipyard where they now roast their own beans.

“We immediately tried to establish ourself as a local spot, as a contributing member to the St. Augustine community, and we have continued that as we’ve grown,” Hooker said.

Inspired by Hooker’s Australian-American upbringing, the Kookaburra’s menu of Aussie coffees, breakfast and lunch pies, and pastries emerged largely from family recipes and are made from scratch, in-house. They use Wainwright Dairy in Live Oak, and use local produce whenever possible, Vidal said.

It’s a business culture centered on people and largely personal.

“If you walk into any of our shops at any time of the day, you’ll see our baristas either directly interacting with the customers who are there, or greeting them by name, or preparing their drinks, or starting to prepare their drinks as they walk in,” Hooker said. “There’s just a really good vibe.”

The decision to roast their own coffee beans, which they previously purchased from Bold Bean Coffee Roasters in Jacksonville, ignited a year of transformation for The Kookabura.

“We had been playing with roasting, both the science of the craft of it for quite a while beforehand, just on a very small scale, so this is the first time we kind of stepped it up to production-level roasting and started incorporating our own beans into the operational mix,” Hooker said.

They now roast between 500 to 700 pounds of coffee beans per week. Their coffees include single-origin, natural process beans from Guatemala, Ethiopia and Brazil.

“It has given us more control in the product that we are offering for our customers,” he said. “We’ve had a phenomenal relationship with Bold Bean ever since we opened and we’ve been very, very fortunate to have found them as a local roaster … but evolving into the roasting game ourselves has allowed us to kind of take the next step with the business and really dial in our product offerings.”

They are now able to develop specific favor profiles to suit their needs, and conduct coffee cuppings, or tastings, several times a week to closely monitor their quality. In September, The Kookaburra employed this creative freedom by teaming up with the St. Augustine Distillery to create a limited-time Bourbon Barrel Rested Coffee, using the distillery’s barrels to infuse notes from the bourbon into those of their Brazilian beans.

“One of the reasons we went into roasting is to kind of allow us to continue to grow,” Vidal said.

In addition to allowing them to take greater control of their products, the roastery has also given The Kookaburra the means to reach beyond St. Augustine. They are currently developing a wholesale and online retail presence for selling beans, and are excited about the possibility of taking The Kookaburra stores into different markets as well, Vidal said.

“As the roastery continues to evolve, we’re going to have a lot of fun, new, kind of unique offerings, both coffee products and then through different partnerships with other community focused businesses in St. Augustine,” Hooker said. “So, we’re really looking forward to that and we’re really excited to see what this next year brings.”