Interviewing Burra's Bristol Bear ownership

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By Eddie McAteer, Sports Editor

Bristol is full of coffee. From Boston Tea Party to Foliage Café to the Fabulously Green Coffee Machine, there is pretty much something for anyone. However, situated at the top of Whiteladies Road is a café unique not only in ambiance, but also in ownership. The café in question, Burra on Lower Redland Road, is owned by two title-chasing Bristol Bears players, Luke Morahan and Jake Heenan.

Rugby is not a career that lasts forever, and many players look to different horizons after they retire. Morahan and Heenan are getting well ahead of the game by venturing into coffee, a path that is very popular amongst professional athletes. For them, coffee and professional sport go hand in hand because it offers a relaxing alternative to what Heenan describes as ‘getting run off your feet and beaten up every week.’

Not all coffee-loving athletes go as far as opening their own shop, yet even before arriving at Ashton Gate, Morahan had been looking into café’s and it was upon talking with Heenan last November that they recognised the opportunity to open the café together. Despite the disruption of the pandemic, they thought ‘let’s just pull the trigger’ and in February 2021, in the midst of the third national lockdown, Burra opened for the very first time. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength as the nation unlocks.

The steady roadmap out of lockdown has been a major factor in the success of the new business because it has helped them to learn in increments. Starting with takeaways, they have been able to focus on nailing that aspect of the business, as well as getting to know their customers’ wants and needs. Customers are at the centre of Burra and Heenan explained that they want people to ‘enjoy the product they receive, and the product isn’t just your latte or your croissant, it’s the time you’re engaged with staff.’

The interior is reminiscent of Australia's and New Zealand's coffee shops | Adèle Thomasset

Sat in the café itself whilst writing this article, you can certainly see how that culture is coming through and attracting more and more customers. Every member of staff is friendly and inviting, and both players get involved when they aren’t off chasing silverware. Having seen 6’2”, 103kg Heenan preparing an elderly man’s order and asking about his day, it is clear that playing for top-of-the-table Bears has not gone to his head.

Also attracting customers is the quality food and coffee. The coffee, from Extract, has racked up a decent number of stamps on my own loyalty card despite being quite a trek from my second-year house. The baked goods are from 100-year-old Hobbs House Bakery and the cakes come from Exploding Bakery, an Exeter business started by some childhood friends. All the suppliers are local to the South West and also participate in a variety of charitable initiatives, which really feeds into the focuses of the café: good produce, great customer service and sustainability.

Good produce is at the heart of Burra | Adèle Thomasset

Inspiration for much of the café is down to the players’ southern hemisphere roots. Heenan hails from New Zealand and Morahan from Australia, and both countries have a strong coffee culture. That culture has gradually reached the UK, but Burra is an antipodean hub thanks not only to its name (derived from Kookaburra and borough) but also through its sale of the ever-popular Tim Tams and Pineapple Lumps, and the impressive mural of a kookaburra in the back garden.

The coffee culture of the two countries really shines through when the pair explain how it differs to the UK. They said, ‘it’s an environment that caters to having a really comfortable experience and feeling like you’re at home.’ Their aim is to ‘get people coming because they look forward to it because they know they’re going to have a great experience, from the staff to the food to the conversation.’ As Heenan explained, ‘coffee is global, so it has to be more than coffee. We’re trying to create an atmosphere and a culture.’

'The product isn't just your latte or your croissant, it's the time you're engaged with staff'
Good produce, great customer service and sustainability

The atmosphere and culture of Burra is evident for anyone who visits, but the co-owners’ attitude to expansion sums up the business best. They uphold that ‘if we end up breaking even with a product we’re really proud of, we will take that every time over profiting off of something ordinary.’ From my own experiences here and the experiences of hundreds of customers, they can definitely be proud of this product.

Featured image: Adèle Thomasset


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