Today I had the pleasure of having a coffee with Brent and Joel, the respective owners of Cog Café and Cog Bike Shop. The two have been mates since Joel became a customer of Brent’s coffee shop Friends on the Hill in Monbulk. Joel is a bike nut and has been for ages, he loves restoring old bikes and re-building them and always had a dream of having his own bike shop.
Brent and Joel have similar stories which is probably one of the reasons they get on so well. Brent’s previous occupation was building swimming pools and like Joel got sick of “throwing shovels around” and decided to embark on a career change. So around 8 years ago he opened Friends on the Hill, a café in Monbulk.
Prior to owning Cog Bike Shop Joel had his own company doing floor and wall tiling and then did a year as a Building Supervisor which helped him realise that he had to get out of the building game because it just wasn’t for him anymore, he was over it. In late 2017 he saw an ad for a part-time bike mechanic at Cog. He decided to pursue his dream, so he applied, and he got the job.
As it turned out the bicycle gods were smiling on Joel and the owner of the bike shop at the time was looking to sell the business. It was the perfect opportunity, so Joel and his wife Deb decided to take the plunge and purchase the business.
The café attached to the bike shop was also up for sale, and in passing Joel suggested to Brent that he might be interested in buying it. Brent was interested, and a few months later the two mates were running businesses right next door to each other. In fact, there is a sliding door that connects the two shops. “He closes it when he’s grumpy with me.” Joel told me with a laugh.
The pair bounce off each other in the classic way Aussie blokes do. Brent is a bit like Walter Matthau in the movie Grumpy Old Men, jovial with an abrasive wit. It’s part of his charm and adds to the relaxed atmosphere of the café. “We get to see a lot of lycra in here, some of it we wish we hadn’t seen.” Brent jokes. You get the sense that running the café and the bike shop isn’t work for these guys, that they are genuinely having a great time.
Behind the jokes and laughter though these guys are serious about their businesses. Brent has a successful café in the main street of Monbulk and his knowledge and experience shows with the great coffee and simple, high quality food on offer at Cog café. The menu is designed around convenient food that you can have served and eaten relatively quickly so you can hop back on your bike and head back down the track.
Joel and Deb have also been busy expanding Cog Bikes Australia and opened a second bike shop in Monbulk four months ago. Deb, Joel’s partner, has also recently expanded their bike hire business to give customers more options when enjoying a ride along our beautiful Warburton Trail. Cog bikes can now be hired and returned at five locations along the trail. All the Cog Hire Hubs are at places where you can also fuel up with something to eat and drink so it’s a great initiative for recreational riders and families having a day out.
The bike hire hubs are at the following locations:
The Cog café only has a small kitchen, but that doesn’t stop them putting out quick, simple, high quality meals and great coffee. Cog café also uses mainly local produce and prides themselves on making their own cakes, sauces and jams in house from locally sourced ingredients.
The massive concertina window in the front of the shop provides one of the best views of Mount Donna Buang and is a great place for tourists and locals alike to enjoy a coffee and watch the drama of the prevailing weather unfold across the mountain.
The weather is one of the main challenges for both businesses. “When the weather is spanking, we’re both chokkas, but we are reliant on who ever comes down the bike path” says Brent when asked about the challenges of being in business. The weather can certainly be a factor in any tourism focused operation, but it has a huge impact on these two businesses. Having local customers is also a big part of ensuring that businesses like Cog Café and Cog Bike Shop stay afloat.
Now that they both have shops in Monbulk and Warburton they are both pretty busy putting in the long hours that are often required when you run your own business and especially when you’re trying to grow. “We can’t get away from each other” Joel says jokingly. The best part is, that they both still really enjoy the ventures that they’ve embarked on and are still really happy with their chosen paths.
Joel’s focus is on creating that traditional local bike shop service that you don’t get from the mega stores or online shopping. “My favourite thing is seeing people happy riding their bike. The joy that people of all ages get from riding their bike, that’s my favourite thing.” Joel tells me, with a detectable hint of emotion. For Joel it’s not about all the high-end fancy biking stuff, it’s about the accessibility of bike riding for people of all ages and budgets. That’s what gets his juices flowing and motivates him to keep improving the business.
For Brent, his favourite thing is just coming out to his café in Warburton, the casual atmosphere, mountain air and some of the interesting characters that come through the doors bring a smile to his face. “People that come up here usually have a story” Brent explains. “I’ve spoken to people who have been riding around France and have been told by someone over there that they should come and ride the Warby Trail. You’ve gotta be a bit proud that you own a business that’s connected to something with that kind of reputation.”
Chatting to these guys was really enjoyable, they are both really passionate about what they are doing, but they don’t take it, or themselves too seriously, which is an important ingredient in creating a successful business. It’s something that shines through in the playful art installations and quirky little signs all about the place. Next time I head out for a coffee in Warburton I know where I’ll be heading.
The Cog Café is open 9am – 4pm everyday, the menu is bright and breezy and very reasonably priced. Cog Bike Shop in Warburton is open Thursday through to Monday 9am – 4pm, but bikes can be hired by arrangement on days that they are closed. All the details on hiring a bike can be found on their Warburton Bike Hire website.