Charlie and Franks Cafes are a North Shore institution, providing exceptional coffee, incredible food, and something that is much more important to owners Fran and George: an unrivalled experience, no matter what the occasion.

The original Charlie and Frank’s café and catering business opened a little over a decade ago, and CommBank helped Fran and George launch their second café in 2018, in response to strong support from the North Shore community.

"We named the cafes after my father and George’s grandfather because they were both loved by everyone. If the party was there, they were there, with food, and drinks, and smiles. That’s the experience we want for our customers. Family and community mean a lot to us and our approach to business reflects that."

Recognition, its own reward

Fran says the location of the cafes means the customer base is very much local, and she and George recognise the part the community has played in their success. The business won the Best Café award in the 2020 and 2021 North Shore Business Awards and is a finalist in this year’s Small Business Champion Awards, sponsored by CommBank, and Fran said winning these awards is the “icing on the cake”.

"It really means something when your community nominates you for an award that recognises what you have been trying to achieve. You don’t always take the time to step back and celebrate your successes, and we’re really thankful to our customers and supporters who put us forward for these awards, and to CommBank for supporting us as both our bank and as a sponsor of the Champion awards."

Putting staff first

While the business has been highly successful, the past two years have been tough. Fran has seen neighbouring cafes close their doors, but Charlie and Franks have been able to keep going she and George have juggled cashflow and managed Covid support to keep their team employed.

“We look after our people, always. No matter what you make or what you sell, when you forget about your people, you’ve forgotten about your business,” she says.

Throughout the pandemic, they have worked closely with CommBank and utilised a range of tools including the CommBank app to help them monitor and predict cashflow and manage supplier payments. They pivoted to take away and delivery and restructured their rosters to give shifts to those staff who were not eligible for government support, ensuring everyone had an income. “In truth it was very quiet and we could have worked those shifts ourselves, but everyone was doing it tough in that period and we had to support our team in any way we could.”

As business picks back up, the biggest challenge has been recruiting new staff without a pool of experienced travellers to hire from, but Fran and George have always been open to taking on new staff and investing time and energy into their training.

“A lot of businesses don’t want to spend the time and money to get new staff on board, but we have always had a blend of experienced and junior staff, people from different backgrounds. Everyone brings something new and we make it work. We do a lot of training and mentoring, including quarterly one on ones, supplier visits where our team gets to really know our products, all sorts of things.”

Fran says it’s not just the people who work for them who matter in the business, but the people who work with them. “We’ve worked with amazing chefs, we’ve had great consultants, we have a passionate and skilled management team. The people make or break a business.”

One of Fran and George’s key relationships is with CommBank, which has been a strong match for the values the couple focus on in the business, including reliability, honesty and delivering on promises.

“In a business like ours, speed of payment is absolutely critical, and that was a big part of our decision to join CommBank. We need rapid responses, instant information, so we can make decisions quickly and manage our cashflow. With CommBank, we’ve been able to link our point of sales with our accounting systems and run a cloud-based operation, which simplifies our business management so we can focus on our people management. CommBank is also always willing to go the extra mile for us, and do what is best for our business, not always what is easiest.”

That’s exactly the approach Fran takes with her customers and her team. “We really do love and respect our people and our customers. We love the action and the chaos of running cafes. We just love seeing people happy.”

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