Around 20 years ago, Black Sheep’s roaster and founder, Mark Gloftis was a coffee-loving uni student studying fine art. He was also working at the Cannon Hill Markets, setting the stalls up in the early hours of the morning.
Every weekend he would watch a guy sell cold drinks and instant tea and coffee. Why don’t they have real coffee? Mark wondered. He’d read about the success of coffee carts in America, on train platforms and on campus at universities and he figured the same could be done here. So he set himself up with a trestle table and a vintage single lever machine. He called it Mark’s Coffee Cart (“very original,” he laughs) and charged $2 a cup. It was one of the very first coffee carts in Brisbane.
The market owners told him he was crazy. They said no one would ever pay that sort of money for coffee. You didn’t go to the market and get a takeaway. It just wasn’t done at the time. But Mark’s customers proved them wrong.
Before long, Mark finished up at uni. In addition to working at the markets on weekends, he was now working in cafes. He was buying his market coffee through Aromas and so he asked them if he could do some work experience and learn how to roast. They said yes.
“I did the same at Merlo,” Mark recalls. “I asked if there were any jobs, they said no. I said, can I do some work experience? They said yep, cool. And then within a few weeks of doing work experience for both of them, they both offered me part time work.”
So Mark was working for two major competitors at the same time, as well as his cart on the weekends.
A few months later, Mark moved his operation to Rocklea Markets (owned by the same people as the Cannon Hill Markets). Soon after, the Cannon Hill Markets closed down after Sunday retail trading was introduced. The market used the car park at the shopping centre. Kmart and Coles wanted their car park space and so the markets were kicked out.
But business was good for Mark’s Coffee Cart. And around this time, he upgraded from the trestle table, building a stainless steel coffee cart with the help of a fabricator friend. Then another friend came on board to help out on the weekends.
Mark was still working for Merlo — now full time as their roaster — and he was buying his market coffee through them. But then he realised he was earning more at the markets in two days than what he was getting paid working five days. So he left Merlo and bought himself a 3kg roaster. (For perspective, the one at the Roastery today is 15kg.)
Around this time, Katie started at the markets, so there were now three people working at the cart every Saturday and Sunday.
Once Mark began roasting his own blends for the markets, something unexpected happened. Customers started asking for – not just takeaway coffee – but takeaway beans. This wasn’t part of the plan. The plan was just cups.
But customers began showing up with plastic containers to purchase coffee to take home. Spurred by this demand, Mark thought he should probably get some proper packaging, so he bought bags and printed labels at home. The only problem was, when it rained the ink from the home printer would run all over the customers’ clothes.
It was then that Mark and Katie realised “it was time to get a bit serious about this…”
Stay tuned for the next instalment in the History of Black Sheep to discover what Black Sheep was nearly called (hint: another animal was in the running) and just how many tries it took to come up with the Feeling Woolly blend we all know and love.