Settlement Co.’s Nick Hollier on Canada’s Coffee Habits, People & Running A Small Business

DSC_0951If you guys remember my last post on how to brew proper coffee, you’ll surely remember Nick: Settlement Co.‘s New Zealand-native-turned-owner. His is a story of growing up, grit, and relationship building. Enjoy!

Nick, you’re from New Zealand. How did you end up in working with Settlement Co. in Waterloo?

Nick Hollier: I grew up in a couple different places in New Zealand. Originally Wellington, and I started working at a cafe when I was 16. Was working in coffee while I was in university, then I moved to Berlin for a while. I ended up running out of money, and only had enough money for a plane ticket to Canada. I’m half Canadian (my dad’s Canadian) so I have some family here. I couldn’t afford a ticket back to NZ, and I didn’t really want to go back anyway.

Years later I was working for Detour Coffee Roasters in Burlington, they’re one of the best coffee roasters in the country. I was almost thirty and my career was stagnating, so I quit coffee. I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then I ran into Tony, which is Rob’s brother, and he offered me a bartending job. So I worked with them from November 2014, just after Abe Erb opened. Midway through last year, Rob and I got to talking and he said he was interested in opening something else. He heard about my background in coffee and it went from there.

Why did you feel like your career was stagnating?

NH: I was just getting bored. I was ending up doing the same things, and the challenges weren’t really there. The only way you can make a really good career in specialty coffee in Canada is to do it yourself. So I was reevaluating. Coffee is what I love to do, but I had to be an adult for a minute and ask myself “am I actually going to be able to sustain myself with a lifestyle I want doing what I love?”


What is it like running a small business?

NH: I’m learning a lot on the business side of things. Like how to knock peoples’ prices down, and general networking stuff. The back end business stuff, too, like organizing deals, dealing with suppliers, sourcing products.

What is something you are proud of?

NH: All of it. I’m always really excited when I see my staff succeed and constantly get better. I’m really proud mentoring people to be as good as they are at their jobs, because I can’t do this without them. It’s awesome seeing a couple key staff members shine, especially Brianna, who is our youngest and also one of our managers now, at the age of 19. I’m teaching her how to roast right now, and seeing her passion and enthusiasm for it, and me being able to help grow that, makes me really happy for sure.

13499493_10207953834078161_1486309327_oA reader (shoutout to Lucia!) asks: how do you like your coffee?

NH: Depends on what I have available to me. Do you want the full-on nerd answer? At home, drip pour-over, and always black. If I’m in a shop, and there’s an espresso machine, I’ll have a macchiato. I don’t like very much milk in my coffee. It’s always black, something lightly roasted, most likely of African descent. Probably a Kenyan if I am going to be really picky. Kenyan as a pour-over, black.

What would Canadians be surprised to learn about coffee habits from abroad?

NH: Drip coffee does not exist in NZ and Australia. It’s not a thing. Anywhere. As advanced as people get in their homes is a french press, and everything else is espresso-based. NZ and Australia have something called a long black. Cappuccinos are still those disgusting nineties things with the foam and sprinkles on them [I stole a glance at my own cappuccino as he said this, wondering if I should have ordered a different drink. Nope.].

We supply sugar if you really want it, but I try to encourage people to try our coffee beforehand. I really believe in our product and stand by how we serve it; I don’t believe you need to add anything to it. But as long as I’m serving it to you guys, the way that I want it to be served, you can do whatever you like to it. I’m done my job at that point. People like their coffee how they like it; everything’s an opinion. From Coffee School you would have learned that I don’t get why dark roast is a thing, but there is something about a dark roasted coffee with a hell of a lot of cream and sugar, so I get it. It’s like dessert.

What life lessons have you learned from working in customer service? Managing people?

NH: People generally just want to be recognized and be engaged. Creating that environment where everyone takes a second to talk to you means you’re going to have happy customers. Simple. And if you’re completely controlling a situation, people aren’t going to listen to you. It’s human nature to rebel when constrained.

What does success mean to you?

NH: If you can wake up in the morning and be excited to do what you’re doing, you are successful. Success in a business sense is obviously making money, making your investors happy, but when it comes to an environment like this, it’s that I’m seeing a bunch of people. I’ve had regulars since day one, and that means the philosophy that I put forth was successful.

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Extra credit: What is the difference between a latte, macchiato, and cappuccino?

NH: Like you learned in Coffee School, everything in espresso-based beverages is ratio: how much milk to coffee. Macchiato is espresso with a tiny bit of steamed milk. The definition in Italian is “stained with milk”. And cappuccino should be 1:1:1 espresso, milk, and foam. That should never be more than six ounces, unless you’re pulling a quad [two double-shots of espresso]. Then it can really be 12 ounces. [Ahem, ahem, Starbucks…] Latte means milk, so it’s coffee with a lot of milk.

There you have it, folks. 18 coffees down, 82 more to go. I hope you learned something. And if you’re down to explore/support local small businesses, visit Settlement Co. on King/Erb in Uptown Waterloo. You may even catch me there with friends.



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