Full of beans: How Frank Andrews left behind banking and built a coffee roasting empire

Frank Andrews

Frank Andrews, founder and director, Frankie's Beans

Four years ago, Sydney’s Frank Andrews began to transition away from a nearly 20-year career in the banking sector, where he was earning a six-figure sum, to pursue his passion for coffee roasting as a legitimate business. With limited hospitality experience, he faced an uphill battle – especially considering the fiercely competitive nature of the local café scene. Nevertheless, his efforts have paid off.

Today, the 43-year-old is a successful coffee roaster with two cafes under his belt – Café without a Name in Alexandria, and Frankie’s Beans in Darlinghurst, opposite the famous Kings Cross Coca-Cola billboard. The former is currently no. 1 on BeanHunter’s Top Sydney Café list while the latter’s wholesale arm supplies a growing number of cafes, nationwide. In addition, Andrews’ coffees have earned him two Silver medals and two Bronze medals at the Australian International Coffee Awards since 2014.

The former banker (ANZ, Westpac, Bankwest) turned entrepreneur spoke to Dynamic Business about the mindset required to grow his coffee empire as well as the challenges he had to overcome. He also shared tips for people who might feel trapped by their careers and want to carve out a new path for themselves.

DB: What motivated your late-stage career-switch?

Andrews: I wanted to be able to wake up every day and know that I’m doing what I truly love, which is not something many people get to experience in this world. I figured that the corporate world will always be there but there are very few opportunities in life to take a risk and pursue your passion. Leaving the corporate world behind was a very scary decision, and even after I left I still had many doubts, but I believe I have made the right decision for the right reasons.

DB: what were some hurdles you had to overcome?

Andrews: I stepped into a highly competitive industry with very little experience, so educating myself was at the top of my priority list.  Fortunately, I am very good at self-learning and I have the ability to grasp concepts very quickly. I did a lot of reading from a number of sources and spoke to a number of people within the industry to get as much information as I could.

When I started roasting my own coffee it was with a popcorn machine and I nearly burnt down my unit. Instead of deterring me, the incident inspired me to find a better piece of machinery and set up a dedicated area for experimentation at my parents’ house.

One of the biggest challenges that I faced was the level of conflicting information.  This lead to me adopting a more questioning mindset in terms of putting into practice what I had read or heard. I quickly learnt to challenge the conventional way of thinking and to push the existing boundaries.

The switch to a completely new industry was a tough one and one that I could not have done without the support of my family and friends. During tough patches, including moments of doubt, knowing that I had a strong support network (especially my partner Joanne) helped me get by.  It is also incredibly rewarding to be able to share my successes with my support network.

DB: What has fuelled the success of your businesses?

Andrews: A constant desire to succeed, learn, develop and grow.  This has involved constantly growing my network and making time to share my knowledge and experiences with others while also being open to others’ knowledge and experiences.  I am at work seven days a week, and thankfully I now have a great team in place at my first café, café without a Name, who allow me to focus on café No 2, which opened in February this year, and growing the wholesale business.

My previous banking experience has also helped with my success as it provided me with the financial acumen to monitor and analyse business performance whilst a strong customer-centric attitude has meant that we make our customers the core of our business. The same goes for the businesses owners we supply coffee beans to – we are emotionally invested in their businesses because their success is our success.

DB: What’s been the most satisfying part of switching careers?

Andrews: Building something from scratch and watching it grow.  There is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing all of your hard work pay off.  Also, being able to wake up every morning and look forward to going to work.

DB: Looking ahead, what plans do you have for your businesses?

Andrews: I will continue to grow the wholesale business by working with business owners who take pride in what they do and want to offer a unique experience to their customers. Ultimately, however, I would love to grow the business to a point where we are working with not only local businesses but with the coffee farmers directly and helping them become more efficient and sustainable whilst assisting them to give back to their local communities.

DB: Any tips for people who want to leave a career to run a business? 

Andrews: Here are seven tips, all drawing from my own experiences:

  • Identify what you are extremely passionate about: “When you start your own business it is likely you will work harder than you have EVER worked. If that passion isn’t there, then you may just lose the drive to make it a success.”
  • Be honest with yourself and be very self-aware: “Do you have the skills necessary to take the plunge? If not identify the best way to get them and if possible don’t take the plunge until you have them.”
  • Make sure you have done a business plan: “It is amazing how many people I’ve met with who are about to open a café or restaurant but have not done a business plan. Many of them are not even completely aware of the implications of the lease they have just signed! If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”
  • Surround yourself with experts in their field: “Being in small business means you need to wear a number of hats; however, you will not be able to do everything well. It is critical to identify your biggest weaknesses and make sure you have people that can cover them. You will learn a lot from these experts.”
  • Be prepared to make sacrifices: “Before you take the plunge, you must re-evaluate what is important to you as you are likely to need to make some compromises to your lifestyle. You may have to give up that annual holiday or the regular outings at the early stages of the business as your resources (being either time or money) will need to go back into the business.”
  • Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others: “Listen to what others have experienced and ask them if they had their time again what would they have done differently. Hopefully you will be able to pick up a few key points to maximise the chance of success”.
  • If possible, stay in your current job and slowly build your business on the side: “It may take a bit longer to get it up and running but you will have a more solid foundation once you get things going. After I began roasting in 2013, I remained in banking, running the wholesale business son the side. I officially walked away from banking, full-time, in early 2016.”