Travel Story A taste of Australia in Rio

Former WA rig driller Duncan Hay at his Kraft Cafe in Ipanema with Kookaburras hockey stars Aran Zalewski, right, and Simon Orchard.
Photo of Steve Butler

Rio de Janeiro is a long way from Esperance but the Brazilian city is now home to a former south coast rig driller who's brewing up a storm. 

In the shadows of Rio de Janeiro’s towering Christ the Redeemer statue, Duncan Hay — a former rig driller from Esperance — tends the coffee bean roaster he uses to produce liquid black gold for his new Kraft Cafe business near the famous Ipanema beachfront. And while coffee sales often dip with Brazil’s brutal heat, the venture is showing plenty of promise.

“We’ve been able to create a name for ourselves quickly,” Mr Hay says of the business, which opened on December 29 last year. “Now we’re looking at opening more cafes, hopefully we can take advantage of our recent fame and have 10 or 15 Kraft Cafes.”

Mr Hay started his mining career in Perth and then South America before heading to the Middle East. He was working in Brazil when he lost his job after oil prices crashed and political corruption sent the country into turmoil. So he and his Brazilian wife Priscila took the punt on building Kraft Cafe.

“My sister was living in Los Angeles and sent us something from the New York Times talking about the success of Australian coffee shops,” he says.

“We looked around and we were like, ‘Yeah, Australian coffee shops are popular everywhere’. They are in Paris, New York, L.A. ... all over the place. Then we started to think about Brazil and Rio about where do we go to drink coffee? It reminded me that I’d forgotten how much I like coffee.”

Mr Hay believes there could be new product horizons in iced coffee, which has yet to become a staple in Brazil, as well as raw vegan snacks and kombucha tea. Roasting his own product also means he is able to source cheap local green beans.

“When people first heard about Kraft Cafe, they may have thought it was a bit over-hyped about it being the only place to get a good coffee (in Rio),” he says.

“But they came from (the neighbourhoods of) Copacabana or Barra and were saying, ‘it’s bloody right’.

“There are probably only five places you can go in a city of six million. It’s like saying you only had five places in all of Sydney — they’d have a pretty long line.”

Kraft Cafe was popular with Australian Olympians during the recent Rio Games, from Australian hockey stars Aran Zalewski, Simon Orchard and Eddie Ockenden to basketballer Marianna Tolo and WA kayaker Steve Bird. Mr Hay says the Olympics brought his business a spike of up to six times the normal weekly take.

But the transition into private business in a country that’s had well-documented recent issues, particularly coming from the mining industry during its boom, has been difficult.

“When you’re working for a massive industry, everything is done for you and it’s all pretty well cushioned,” he says.

“But to come and try and do it yourself — being someone who speaks the lingo but doesn’t really read the fine print so well, it was a bloody shock, I can tell you. Your money literally goes into a black hole.

“The site is a good spot, but we signed up pretty much in the last few months before the Brazilian bubble went bang and now I’m ready for the hangover in October and November because Brazil is going through a tough time. 

“Still, at the end of the day, for all the bad things, there are always good things.”

Mr Hay says Rio is not the dangerous destination many had suggested prior to the Olympics.

“I think what was surprising for the visitors, and especially ones who hadn’t been to Rio and didn’t know what to expect, was the old thing where you go on holiday and expect too much and there’s only room for disappointment,” he says.

“This was the opposite. They’re not going home with super-bugs, their babies are going to be born okay, and the fact is, how can you not like Rio de Janeiro? Especially if you haven’t been robbed, you wake up and go for a walk on the beach, you look at the mountains and it’s just unbelievable.”

Meet Duncan Hay, a former rig driller from WA's Esperance whose Australian-style cafe is proving a hit at Rio de Janeiro's Ipanema Beach. Duration: 01m 49s The West Australian

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