Coffee giant spills the beans on business success

13 April 2018
Dean Merlo
Dean Merlo at Merlo Coffee UQ (St Lucia campus)

Founder of Merlo Coffee, Dean Merlo, revealed the secrets to his success at a recent student guest lecture at The University of Queensland.  

Former barrister-turned-business owner Mr Merlo was the special guest speaker at The Edge Student Leadership Series, an initiative of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law’s Student Employability Team.

Brisbane-born Mr Merlo said he was inspired to take the leap into the business world while travelling through Europe and the United States.

“While I was overseas, I saw these fantastic cafés at the bottom of city buildings and I thought ‘that’s never been done at home’,” he said.

“It sparked something in me; I came from a restaurant background and saw cafés as the way forward. In 1992, I opened an espresso bar in Queen St and I called it Bar Merlo.”

More than 25 years later, Merlo Coffee is one of Australia’s leading independently owned and operated coffee roasters.

The business has expanded to 15 company stores across Queensland – as well as a store at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market – and now supplies freshly roasted coffee to more than 1500 cafes and restaurants around the country. Merlo Coffee also ships its range of unique coffee blends worldwide.

Mr Merlo said the ingredients to his business success were quality products, superior customer service, and employing committed and passionate staff.  

“Today, our mantra is ‘we love serving premium fresh espresso’,” he said.

“’We’ because we’re a team, ‘love’ because coffee is a thing of passion, ‘serving’ because it’s an honour to serve people, ‘premium’ because we want our product to be at that top end, and ‘fresh espresso’ because we roast our own coffee every day.

“That’s the kind of culture we support– a culture of excellence. We take pride in our product and our level of service, which is what differentiates us from our competitors.

“We learn our customers’ names, we follow up on any complaints, we never say ‘no’, and we pay attention to exactly what customers want and look at our business from their perspective.”

Mr Merlo said students serious about starting their own business should commit to their dream.

“You can do all of the research you want, but nothing is proven until you open those doors and go for it,” he said.

“You need to have a big appetite for risk. For me, I had been on the other side of a business where I knew what it was like to lose money, but I had a good feeling about Bar Merlo. It was the right formula in the right location.

“I think that’s half the trick – knowing where the demand is and trying to fill it as best you can.”

Dean Merlo speaks to BEL studentsFor recent graduates or current students dipping their toe into the professional world, Mr Merlo had some sage advice.

“Work experience is important, but even if you don’t have a lot of experience, tell the employer about your genuine passion for the industry and their company,” he said.

“Tell them you’re willing to work hard for them. Interviewers will remember anyone with that level of enthusiasm.”

Employability Specialist for the BEL Student Employability Team Linda McConnell said Mr Merlo was an inspiration to up-and-coming entrepreneurs.  

“I’d like to thank Dean Merlo for sharing his personal and career journey with us,” she said.

“Our students had the opportunity to hear his top tips for success first-hand, which will no doubt help them find their feet in the business world.”

The Edge Student Leadership Series connects BEL Faculty students with leaders from a wide range of industries. Guest speakers are invited to share their stories, giving students valuable first-hand insight into how business leaders get to the top of their game and overcome challenges.

Registrations are now open for the next Edge event on Wednesday 2 May, featuring Paul Laxon, Managing Partner (Queensland) of EY and UQ Bachelor of Commerce alumnus.

Contact: BEL Communications, Alysha Hilevuo,, 07) 3346 9349.