From Pizza Lounge to the Big Apple: Perth’s own Barry Dry has taken Australia’s love affair with brunch and flat whites to the big city.
Ask a New Yorker where to find good coffee in their city and their response will inevitably be one of two things; either they’ll wonder why it matters and suggest a trip to the nearest Starbucks, or they’ll direct you straight to an ‘Australian place’. Much to the pride of any Australian who finds themselves in what, for all intents and purposes (perhaps other than caffeination), is considered the greatest city in the world, this label carries currency here.
It denotes a cleverly chosen and appointed space, defined by abundant natural light, a breezy atmosphere created by casual, often international staff and a reasonably priced menu. Most importantly, it indicates good brunch options and a beyond decent coffee, with milk that’s been lovingly frothed and artistically poured. As such it is at Barry Dry’s Hole in the Wall – the coffee window in Midtown that started it all.
“It started so slowly,” Dry recalls. “It was really tough at the start. I miscalculated how much people were set in their ways here. It took time to get people around to liking quality coffee and going somewhere specific to get their coffee.” Dry’s actual hole in the wall coffee spot opened back in 2014, after the then 26 year old left a hotly contested role in finance in which he worked for only a year.
“It was more of a sabbatical,” he laughs. “I thought I’d do it for a bit and then return but I’m quite stubborn so when the cafe wasn’t doing great, I was like: ‘No, this needs to be better.’ And then when it was doing well, I realised how much I loved it and I didn’t want to go back.”
Three years later, Dry moved his operation downtown to a more spacious outpost in the Financial District. At the time of writing, he’s renovating a second in Murray Hill, Midtown East, one of Manhattan’s most densely residential neighbourhoods and a major point of commute. Here, the emphasis will be split between providing a quick morning coffee for commuters by day and dishing up solid restaurant fare by night. In a city saturated with dining options, Dry says he’s aiming to position the place as mid-range – somewhere between Per Se (Thomas Keller’s luxe Manhattan establishment) and one’s local pizza by the slice joint.
“Dining here, it’s either really good and really expensive or quick and cheap,” says Dry. “There are very few places offering something in the middle ground.”
“The idea at this spot is that with so many people living in this area, we want it to be somewhere people can come once a month, not once every six months,” he says.
Having taken over the food and beverage license for the entire 30-storey, double-towered building at the new location, Dry says there is lots in store for the brand over the coming months. From the introduction of Ghost Burger, which will craft burgers specifically for delivery out of the new purpose-built Hole in the Wall kitchen, to the launch of a private members club complete with rooftop pool, workspaces and a gym, Dry’s operation – should all go to plan – is about to expand to a whole new level.
But Dry says that maintaining a quality customer experience is his most important priority. Key to that is the brand’s Australian character.
“Our top-end management staff are all Australian,” says Dry. “We are an Australian brand, so we need to uphold that and embody that.”
“It’s so important for our brand to have that Australian feel. People here, Americans, they love going to an Aussie place. It means something to come here.”
Dry first experienced the effect of this unique feel during his university days before leaving Perth for New York City, while working at Pizza Lounge in Swanbourne. Dry started out doing dishes and deliveries before making his way up to General Manager and running the staple neighbourhood joint for two years. When he first pursued the idea of Hole in the Wall many years later, this experience in small business proved crucial.
“A lot of people come to New York with grand, romantic plans to run a café or restaurant, and then realise how tough and expensive it is,” says Dry. “I started on a small scale, which allowed me to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t.”
“ I was literally making coffees for two years,” he laughs. “ I wasn’t just sitting back and relaxing, I was slugging it out. I was in the business. I knew the business from washing the dishes all the way up to now having 60 staff.”
New York is famous for its revolving door of eateries and to survive as a first-time competitor, let alone establish an iconic brand that’ll have people justifying waiting two hours for a table on weekends, is impressive. Dry’s venture hasn’t just been a success for him, in championing a new way of dining for New Yorkers, it’s a win for the city too. Not to mention a win for us Australians, exporting our brunch culture worldwide might just be our only chance at obtaining some kind of global soft power. Nevertheless, Dry maintains that Aussie earnestness.
“I still try to go in on a weekly basis on a Saturday and do dishes,” he says. “I’m not above dishes.”
Visit – Hole In The Wall