Xavier Manson’s looking suitably at ease when Gippslandia meets him in Warragul for a chat. He’s holding down a corner of Frankie’s Cafe, of which he’s the general manager and an equity owner. He appears simultaneously relaxed and industrious as he glances over his laptop screen, his position affording him a sweeping view of the café, lively during the morning coffee and breakfast run, as well as the street outside.
After its recent refurbishment, the café has a refreshed glow, and the flow of patrons through the architecturally designed space has been improved, as was demonstrated by the throngs of people that called in for a meal, a refuel during a local basketball tournament, Xavier explains. It can now more easily handle the frequent pram traffic too.
As we sit down, we cheekily enquire about how many coffees Xavier enjoys each day. His reply of four to five cups is less startling when he informs us about just how many projects he’s juggling: the continued improvement of cafés in Warragul and Pakenham, and a couple of forthcoming ventures. Four cups? Pfft! We’d probably be needing caffeine delivered straight to our veins if it was us.
Fortuitously, Xavier was boarding at Xavier College, Kew (no, not named after him) as the Melbourne café scene, especially the quality of breakfast being dished up, was undergoing a mouthwatering transformation. CondéNast once said that in Melbourne, “The sheer volume of world-class, chef-driven cafés that crank out creative, composed breakfast dishes… can be somewhat staggering”. Renowned chef David Chang recently joked on his podcast that if Australia could channel the extreme dedication and focus that our cafés devote to creating delicious breakfasts, our nation could bring about world peace.
The breakfast revolution, led by establishments such as Top Paddock, Monk Bodhi Dharma and many others, must have left an indelible mark on Xavier. As after completing a Bachelor of Commerce, a Masters in Finance and an internship with the state-owned People’s Insurance Company of China (PICC), Xavier found himself at a fork in the road; he was interviewing for a position with the huge multinational advisory firm KPMG but his heart wasn’t in it. Xavier is an advocate for fully committing to everything in life. If it wasn’t to be in finance, he was going all-in on breakfast… and lunch… and great coffee.
Frankie’s has family values at its core. Xavier’s parents, Geoff and Gabrielle, have a passion for food and the hospitality industry. Geoff was previously with Hungry Jacks, and the cafés are named after Xavier’s sister (he has two other brothers too). Xavier mentions that his mum has been instrumental in developing a sense of community involvement and contribution, initially including the family on the St Vincent de Paul Soup Van run. Through his work with the corporate side of Hungry Jacks, Geoff supported the Homeless World Cup when it came to Melbourne in 2008. The Australian team for the Homeless World Cup was part of the Community Street Soccer initiative by The Big Issue Australia, which uses the power of sport to change lives. The program promotes social inclusion and personal change for participants.
This desire to assist others now also manifests itself through Frankie’s Community Kitchen. Currently, every Wednesday night approximately four volunteers create about 600 quiches from produce donated by local farmers, suppliers, Sungold Milk and more — often utilising high quality ingredients that would otherwise be wasted. Then on Thursday, the Baw Baw Combined Churches Food Relief and Longwarry & District Lions Club Food Relief pick it up and deliver the meals throughout the region. Xavier excitedly mentions that they’ve recently purchased a Cryovac machine, which will allow them to expand their menu of meals available. The increased animation in Xavier’s voice as he explains the program hints at his personal enthusiasm for the work of the community kitchen.
It feels as though Xavier’s confidence in his capabilities is growing and that he senses he’s hitting his stride in his role and with the business. But, as you can imagine, it hasn’t come easy, as Xavier explains:
“My biggest challenge has been the steep learning curve of being thrust into a position of great responsibility at a young age (Ed: Xavier is 26 years old). I completed five years at university, learning everything from marketing to quantitative analytics. No amount of study can completely set you up for the real world.
“I have been in charge of a multi-million dollar business and every day I have had to make calculated decisions that have a profound impact on many people’s lives. Overcoming this challenge came about once I understood the extent to which my decisions impacted our business and the lives of those that rely on it, and naturally, I became more confident in the decisions that I made”.
Sporadically through our chat, the high-visibility jackets outside pique our attention. The surveyors are obtaining measurements for the streetscaping work that the Baw Baw Shire Council is undertaking in the centre of Warragul. Xavier is positive about the works that have occurred along Frankie’s Palmerston Street frontage. Converting the street so that traffic only travels in a single direction and widening the footpath appears to make pedestrians feel safer and more comfortable. Xavier believes it’s led to more bums on seats too. It’ll be cool to gauge the atmosphere on Warragul’s footpaths once all works are complete.
We discuss how the already dynamic Gippsland dining scene can improve even further — after all, our region won’t rest on its laurels, will it? Xavier shares his view:
“Everyone knows that the most amazing hospitality venues are always the most progressive. They continue to push the boundaries of what is considered to be a cuisine or style of service, and I see no reason why the towns of Gippsland should be any different. Small towns are notorious for being perverse towards progression. I implore the locals to embrace the progression of our towns, especially in the hospitality sector. The world has cuisines that will change the way we grow, prepare and eat food, but if we are stubborn to change then many [people here] will never experience it”.
‘Progression’ is another key sentiment for Xavier when seeking to encourage more of our youth in business.
“I think it’s a two-way street… If we, as a community, are going to encourage young businesspeople in Gippsland, we have to be willing to embrace change. As someone who has many Melbourne-based friends, I know that most are hesitant to even entertain the idea of a country business because small communities enjoy routine rather than progression”.
Our counter to that would be that Frankie’s, and many other contemporary dining venues in Gippsland, would be as at home in the city as they are in our towns. Gippsland respects those that, simply give it a go, and embraces them. We feel Gippslandia is another example of this. Don’t forget, our new routine has to start somewhere.
Driving away from our chat, the dominant sentiment is that we hope Xavier can become a mentor or a source of motivation for other upcoming businesspeople. For someone not yet 30, he possesses a unique knowledge base and approachability.
For Xavier, it feels the best is yet to come.