Five minutes with a Trailblazer: Fleur Studd

Published on 19 April 2022

Photo: Market Lane Coffee's Fleur Studd.

Fleur Studd is one of the most influential names in Melbourne’s coffee industry. Spotting a gap in the market in 2008, she started importing green beans under Melbourne Coffee Merchants, and not long after, launched the first Market Lane café in 2009. You can now find six Market Lanes and a roastery across the city, and Studd’s passion championing of coffee producers and high quality beans has seen Melbourne’s enthusiasm for coffee flourish in equal measure. Fleur Studd was inducted into the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Hall of Fame as a Trailblazer in 2015.

The proudest moment in my career has been… Over the 14 years we’ve been operating, people’s understanding of, and appreciation for, specialty coffee has changed radically, and it’s nice to know that we have played a role in helping to redefine what coffee is and can be for so many Melburnian and Australian consumers. We sought to address how difficult it was to find fresh, traceable, high-quality coffee in Melbourne by establishing Melbourne Coffee Merchants, and then, Market Lane Coffee. From the outset, both businesses have been aligned in their unwavering commitment to quality, transparency and sustainability, and their focus on educating both the industry and the end consumer. 

Over a decade on, Melbourne Coffee Merchants and Market Lane have both grown, but the fundamentals of our businesses and values have remained the same. I am proud of the amazing team we have built and maintained over this period; many team members still work with us today, and others have gone on to open their own impressive businesses (including Wild Life Bakery, Shortstop, Altius and Holy Belly). I am also proud of the longstanding relationships we have built with our producing partners, many of whom we have been lucky enough to visit and work with, year after year. Nothing makes me happier than when a customer seeks out a particular coffee, or gets excited to see it return to our shelves during its season. Those moments are my proudest, as they’re the ultimate sign that we’re achieving what we aim to, and that we’re doing a good job.

The mistake that taught me the most was… Any time we have considered expanding our offering beyond coffee, we have always ultimately thought better of it. So, this might be a mistake that is continuously avoided. I think our superpower as a business is our simplicity and narrow focus on doing one thing extremely well: providing exceptional coffee. We’re not really good at much else, and a big lesson has been that we don’t need to be, and shouldn’t try to be.

My first job in hospitality was… From the age of about 15, I worked part time as a waitress in a family-run restaurant called J’Febs in Beaumaris. The owner, Guida, had named the restaurant after her kids (John, Fiona, Eliza, Ben and Sophie). Guida led the front-of-house team and she was larger than life, full of energy, and wonderfully warm and engaging with every guest that walked through her doors. I learnt so much in my years there and, along the way, served some terrible cappuccinos with spoonfuls of over-steamed fluffy milk.  

The reason I got into this industry was… I first entered the industry while living in London in my early twenties. I was working in an unrelated field and frequenting a super special roastery and coffee shop called Monmouth. Up until that point, I thought all coffee tasted like ‘coffee’, and the sole secret to a good one was the skill of the barista behind the machine. Working my way through Monmouth’s diverse menu of filter coffees, I began to appreciate how origin, variety and process can impact a coffee’s flavour. I got pretty excited about this… so excited that I quit my job and started working at Monmouth! I learnt to taste coffee with their roasting team, and worked in the shops as well. My favourite moments were spent working behind the bean counter, selling coffees for customers to brew at home. I loved talking people through the line-up of coffees we offered, tasting the coffees with them and seeing them experience the same ‘aha!’ moment that I had in my early London days.

Then I started to travel to coffee-producing countries, and I witnessed first-hand the incredible expertise, hard work and care that goes into producing high-quality coffee. I became determined to build a market and name for these beautiful coffees back home in Australia; to showcase and share the stories of the incredible people and communities behind the coffees, and to express to coffee roasters and baristas, and to coffee drinkers, all the reasons their coffee is so special.

That is also when I recognised that building an appreciation of, and demand for, quality coffee is crucial in ensuring that producers can receive higher premiums for their output. This drives innovation and investment, and it ultimately helps build a more equitable, transparent and sustainable supply chain that can operate outside of the commodity market.  

The reason I stayed was the people. Those we work with at home as well as abroad. Ultimately, it is these relationships that bring true meaning to what we do, and get me out of bed every morning. 

Also, we are not done. There is so much more we need to do, as a business and as an industry, and urgent social and environmental challenges that need to be addressed. In the last 12 months, we have implemented a mental health scheme for our team members, and we’ve become carbon neutral. In the next 12 months, we hope to become B Corp certified, too. We believe it’s our responsibility to be part of the positive and lasting change we want to see by using business for good, continuously striving to do better, collaborating and agitating, and leading by example. 

My mentor is… One of my biggest influences has been my dad, Will Studd, because over the years, I have watched him build up a market for specialty cheese in Australia, and advocate to change the regulations to allow raw milk cheeses to be produced in, and imported to this country. Dad has always been incredibly passionate about what he does. He lets his heart, his values and his belief in what he does lead his decisions, and that is the way I approach my businesses as well. 

In coffee, Anita Le Roy of Monmouth Coffee in London has been my biggest influence and my all-round coffee hero. She is a pioneer in specialty coffee in the UK, and leads her business with integrity, humility and authenticity. I was lucky to work with her at the start of my coffee career, and so much of my approach to both business and coffee has been informed by Anita’s wisdom and vision. 

If I could return to any moment in the Melbourne hospitality industry of the last 50 years, I’d choose… I think I would take myself back to the coffee scene in Melbourne around 2010. The specialty coffee industry was in its infancy, and there was a huge amount of energy, curiosity, collaboration and a sense of community at that time – both at home and across the globe. We could all see the possibility of what could and should be better, and we were learning together. It was such an exciting time to be working in coffee. 

But the most exciting development in the Melbourne hospitality industry in the last five years is… Honestly, the lockdowns ending has got to be one of them. While COVID is still affecting our industry, like all others, it does feel like we can start to pick up the pieces now and rebuild. It’s been amazing to watch the city start to fill with life again; to welcome customers back inside our shops, serve coffees in ceramic cups (it’s the little things), and see our industry peers in person at their businesses and at community events. 

The coffee producers we work with have been amazing in adapting to our distanced relationships during the pandemic – sending us videos of harvests and processing, and jumping on Zoom calls when needed. But it will certainly be a thrilling moment when we once again get on a plane and go and see them and their farms, and taste their coffees together in person.

My favourite hospitality venue to visit in Victoria is... I am very lucky to have Public Wine Bar around the corner from our house, and this is my go-to any time we have a last-minute babysitter for the kids. I have long admired Campbell Burton and the way he talks with deep knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm about the wines he serves. The food at Public Wine Bar is simple, delicious and ever-changing (Ali is a genius), the service is genuine and personal, and the atmosphere is intimate and cosy. I love it there. 

My avourite locally made product is... I live in North Fitzroy, and I feel very fortunate to have so many good things nearby. Last week, Sharon Flynn from The Fermentary opened a beautiful little shop around the corner, which is stocked full of amazing fermented products, including her delicious kefir milk and kimchi, which are staples in our house. 

My favourite Victorian drink right now is... Gary from Jamsheed Wines is producing some really yummy wines that are elegant and interesting. His Beechworth Syrah is one of my favourites. His urban winery in Preston is fantastic; we hosted a post-lockdown holiday party there with our team last December, and we had an absolute ball. 

Market Lane Coffee, various locations.

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