Yarram’s Bean Pedlar cafe a tasty career change

Robert Drakeford. Photo: Rory Mcleod

Stefan Bradley

The Bean Pedlar cafe in Yarram was opened in July last year by Robert Drakeford, who had spent much of his life fighting fires instead of roasting beans.

“For 15 years, I worked as an operations coordinator for Forest Fire Management Victoria,” Mr Drakeford said.

“I took on the manager role for the Yarram area in our district and I covered everywhere from south of the Princes Highway back towards Yarram and anything that was ground land, and looked after a small crew of firies.”

Mr Drakeford said he needed a career change for his mental health, as firefighting was a high-stress environment.

“At the time I was chatting to my Dad and we wanted to make coffee as a hobby so we bought a coffee roaster,” he said.

“The Mitre 10 owners who were fourth-generation were moving out and moving on, so we put an offer on that building and bought it, and things just blew out of the water from there.”

For the Bean Pedlar, it all came down to taste. Mr Drakeford wanted to bring the Melbourne coffee experience to Yarram and Gippsland.

“I was buying coffee from Melbourne roasters and mixing my own coffee at home before going to work rather than picking one up while I was out,” Mr Drakeford said.

“I really enjoyed what Melbourne had to offer coffee-wise with all the roasters, the freshness and variety, so I wanted to bring that closer to home.”

Despite his current career pedalling beans, Mr Drakeford had no prior experience with the cafe or hospitality industry whatsoever.

“Before we opened, I went to the Melbourne Coffee Academy, but prior to that I had no knowledge or experience with coffee, I was doing it at home, self-taught,” he said.

“With the roasting side of things, I just got someone to come in and train me.”

“It took about six months to find the flavour that I wanted.”

Mr Drakeford said The Bean Pedlar has received a very welcoming response.

“The Bean Pedlar is new and fresh, the coffee is bold, smooth and tasty, it doesn’t have too much bite,” he said.

“It’s a cool contrast for an old-style town like Yarram.”

Bean Pedlar barista Jessica Banik said the cafe had a lot of tradies who come in the morning for a coffee before work.

“And a lot of the teachers from the local schools get their caffeine fix here before they have to deal with the children,” Ms Banik said.

“A lot of regulars come in everyday and we’re able to remember their orders since they come in so often.

“We also get lots of tourists and we try to get Yarram the most exposure it can.”

Mr Drakeford does all the roasting himself.

“On Mondays I roast. I open the shop and once the staff are in I warm the roaster up and go from there, and it’s an all-day job,” Mr Drakeford said.

“I have to roast enough for a week in advance for the cafe, because it has to sit for seven days for degassing, but I also need enough for retail.

“Tinamba Hotel stock our coffee and use our coffee, and so do Padula’s Delicatessen in Sale, and the Kitchen Cupboard in Traralgon.”

The business has also expanded to a mobile van. Mr Drakeford said the building was so old it had to be replaced entirely, so they installed a serving window where people could easily walk past and order takeaway food and drink.

“Even before COVID hit, that’s what people were wanting to do, but of course with the lockdowns we saw the benefit of closing the front door and having the window open for takeaway,” he said.

“I reckon I was closed for about three months, until sometime in December.”

When Omicron arrived, sales were up and down.

“Being a small town, you hear about some local cases, and then all of a sudden, your coffee sales drop off,” Mr Drakeford said.

“Other factors include the weather, or if the media visits to report on COVID cases, people seem to hide out.

“At one point I had three staff isolating as they were close contacts, so it was just me and one other barista and wait staff, and if anyone of us had to isolate we’d have to close the store.”

“And we were really nervous during the six or seven days, because it costs a lot of money to close the doors.”

With the COVID lockdowns and Omicron, the retail sales of the coffee have been a good way to keep trade going.

“A lot of people have heard that the coffee is local and they’re really loving it, so the retail side has been taking off,” Mr Drakeford said.

“And it’s really nice tasting coffee, so more and more orders are coming in.

“I would love to see more local people take us on as a coffee supplier.”


Jessica Banik – Barista – Photo: Stefan Bradley