How Storytech helped an iconic Christchurch coffee company get back to their story


Through thick and thin, one of Christchurch’s best coffee roasters and cafe companies has thrived, with a combination of grit, ethics and a fantastic product.

Here’s their story, and how Storytech helped.

Like many of us, when Hamish Evans left school he had no idea what he wanted to do. While most of his friends went the path of university, Hamish worked, first as a dishwasher, and then later, a barista, he worked his way up within the hospitality industry.

Hamish did eventually study, getting a degree in Adventure Education, and while he didn’t end up climbing mountain faces for a living that move did give him invaluable skills in business marketing, accounting, critical thinking and teaching which were fundamental in the building of Switch Espresso.

A coffee roastery/cafe business, Switch Espresso began with a signed lease, a coffee roaster, and a veer away from a building job that was waiting for him. It was a call that he and his wife made together, and was the beginning of a tumultuous yet fulfilling time for them.

At first, Hamish was the only employee, working 6 days a week running the original cafe in Brighton. The goal was simple - to create a lifestyle for themselves where there was a good work/play balance, one that could support a family and keep them financially secure.

Right from the beginning, the coffee was fair trade and organic, something that was important to Hamish and that set the bar for how Switch Espresso would move forwards.

The little business grew organically and within 6 months Hamish hired his first employee. As the growth continued, the aspirations for the business grew. In January 2011, Switch Espresso opened Black Betty Cafe across the road from the Unitech in the city, a huge move.

3 weeks later, the February earthquake struck.

Locked out of the CBD for 7 weeks and with the central city a disaster zone, this could well have spelled the end for the company, as it did for countless others. Instead, when they did reopen the doors it was with virtually no competition. Black Betty was humming.

Black Betty Cafe, voted Christchurch’s best in 2014

Black Betty Cafe, voted Christchurch’s best in 2014

What followed was a time of survival and huge growth and opportunity. In the next few years, Switch Espresso moved their roastery three times, refitted two sites, held three pop up cafes, and extended the original cafe.

Amongst all of this ‘making lemonade from lemons’, Hamish realised that in all the focus on pushing through, taking advantage of opportunities and adapting to the new post-earthquake climate of Christchurch, Switch Espresso had lost its identity as a company somewhere along the way.

By this point, they were up to 16 staff across 4 sites, and Hamish felt the business was disconnected from its original message and values.

He had looked into brand strategy for Switchespresso before and had found himself hugely put off by the price, literally tens of thousands of dollars and way out of their bracket.

How Storytech helped Switch Espresso

Hamish says…

“I myself was quite adept at telling the story, but parts of it I still struggled with.

Storytech made it so easy and inspiring and the time just flew. The narration and the stories from James made it so much easier to break it all down. The personality traits of our company, in particular, I had found so challenging. To go through and clearly identify our customers, our problem/solution, and come out with a clear understanding of our picture and story was massive for us. We worked out what was really important.

Just getting the core team of 4 or 5 people together in a room and sharing that history of the knowledge and our values was incredible. It created this great energy of engagement within the crew, and by the end of that day the team were amping”.

Hamish realised that the uniqueness of Switch Espresso sat with their sustainable, ethical and responsible business values. Switch Espresso coffee had always been fairtrade and organic, and there had always been a very real awareness of the waste-production side of the cafe scene. While coffee itself is actually a reasonably sustainable crop when sourced ethically, the offshoots of this industry are not. Disposable coffee cups, the huge dairy consumption, and contribution to the mass-produced meat industry were all elements that didn’t sit right with Hamish.

Talking through all this in their Storytech strategy day really nailed home what makes them special. Being reliable, responsible and thoughtful about the way they operated within the cafe industry emerged as a key forward path, and one that the whole team felt really passionate about.

Hamish (right) and his team on their Storytech day

Hamish (right) and his team on their Storytech day

How they tell that story to the world was the next part of the Storytech process for Switch Espresso. That part was key for Hamish, identifying all the different ways they could share the story, and getting all the team on the same page just seemed to flick a switch. Their messages became simple and direct. “Make a difference in every cup”, and “Thoughtfully sourced”.

The whole process had led to Switch Espresso pushing deeper into that eco-sustainable identity, and feeling excited about how far they can take it. They serve only free-range pork and eggs, on top of the organic and fair trade coffee their customers know and love, and Hamish is a big advocate for oat milk as a viable replacement for dairy. He sees this as only the beginning.

I asked Hamish what the ambition was for the future Switch Espresso. His answer is undeniably shaped by the events of the Christchurch earthquake, and reflective of the headspace of many smaller businesses operating in a new and extremely fluid city.

“Not to fuck it up. In Christchurch people are liquidating left, right and centre, its a really hard time. The goal right now is to be a responsible business owner and secure my staff wages on a weekly basis, take care of our people and our customers, and do it all in the challenging climate of Christchurch with our values strong and intact. We have a great identity, and we have never needed that more than we do right now”

James HurmanComment