Age doesn’t affect this smooth talking Italian, and with your coffee the smile comes for free.
Meet Big Lui, killer barista over at Bennett Street Dairy, the only cafe in Bondi that prides itself on looking classically old school rather than hipster. Think ‘corner store’ kind of vibe, but with specialty coffee and farm to table food.
Keep it simple
Apart from being broad and brazen, Lui is just a likeable, honest and down to earth kind of guy. He proudly uses a bonds sock to protect his iPhone, loves reading Italian novels and taking his girlfriend to cirque du soleil (swoon).
What I admire most about Lui, is that for someone like me who contemplates the whole ‘I’m twenty something, where am I going’ attitude, he makes aging look effortless. That’s not just his looks I’m talking here.
Forget the hustle, try-hardness or el desperado to be something that ‘sounds better’ on paper.
Lui appreciates simplicity and without sounding like a cheeseburger – he just loves life as it is.
You know how Italians are the only culture that makes tomato sauce and pasta taste like the best fricken thing ever? Well Lui’s attitude is the same. He takes the simplest ingredients for happiness – a fun job, great location, nice friends, quality time and makes it work seamlessly.
Damn you Lui! No but seriously, the world would be a better place if more people lived like this.
Flair for flavour
It all started when his Father would chuck him (not literally) behind the counter of his ice-cream shop at the mere age of five years. He believes this carved out his hospitality pathway and natural flair for giving a crap about food and drink.
“That exposure to people and being sociable at an early age was a good thing and I thank my Father for that. It’s helped me interact with different people at different levels.”
Like most Italians he says, Lui moved to London in his early 20’s, but got over it quite quickly because of the shitty weather. All it took then was one glimpse of the Sydney Olympic Games on T.V and he jumped on the next flight.
If you’re asking, no he did not take up pole vaulting or aggressive handball. He actually spent his next ten years in the notorious Kings Cross pre lock-out laws, witnessing scandalously drunk people go crazy on shots at 6am and trying to make them leave with little success.
Whilst he recalls funny times like awkwardly breaking vodka bottles from trying to impress pretentious people – it was time to throw the towel in. “I remember the old days and bars as good fun, drinking on the job and entertaining people – but it’s not something I would look forward to now. I believe now I can have lots of fun without all of the craziness.”
Cutting shapes to coffee
What to do when you get over it? Simply trade late nights and tequila shots, for early mornings and espresso shots.
“I don’t go out much at this stage. I normally go out for a nice breakfast, lunch or dinner instead of spending a night at the pub. With James (my boss) for instance I go to pilates once a week at a macho pilates place in Bondi. It’s nice to relax and actually get to know people outside of the work environment.”
Even when being a barista in the city got too hectic, Lui switched it up by heading to the Eastern Suburbs. A place where people are more relaxed and have time to say hello to you. It goes to show just when you thought you couldn’t make life any simpler, the opportunity to work in Bondi shows up.
Life is a learning curve
What I admire most about Lui’s journey is the idea that a hospitality career has no expiration date. Whether you’re serving ice-cream when you’re five, shaking margarita’s in your twenties or pouring coffees in your thirties – there’s always room to grow or learn something new. Funnily enough Lui’s constant inspiration has been derived not from some celebrity figure, but from the people around him.
“I’m not sure if I have a role model. I believe I’ve learnt a lot from other people I’ve worked with and trained me, and just people in general. Life is a learning curve and you pick up ways to improve what you do everyday, different ways of doing things and better ways of doing things. It’s also about becoming a better person at the end of the day.
It’s his decent collection of knowledge and memories which leaves him aspiring to open his own joint one day – but only if it still fits into his cruisy lifestyle.
“I don’t think I’m ready yet to open up my own coffee shop yet, but eventually that’s what I would love to do. Rather than get up in the morning to ‘make money and put bread on the table’ which is awesome for others don’t get me wrong, I want to be in my ideal situation before I do that. To start something without the pressure of actually having to meet budgets and get big numbers.
So if you’re looking to chill the eff out, get decent-beyond-decent coffee and happy life advice for free – pop in and see the big man!
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All images Daryl Kong