A businessman sets up his in-tray on a table in a corner. Elsewhere, a grey-haired man throws his leg over an armchair while leafing through the Financial Review.
Two tables away, a down-at heel bloke accepts the scones, jam and cream offered by a gaggle of white-haired ladies. Two women sit, gossiping and knitting with equal gusto, on a leather couch. Toddlers in pink tutus eat rainbow cookies as they pore over a picture they are colouring in.
It’s an odd grab-bag of customers indeed, but each one of them is wearing the same serene glow. Their coffee fix is no hipster high, it’s more a sense of blissful belonging as they sip coffee against the warm, honey-toned backdrop of the century-old Peninsula Hotel in Maylands. Now four years into its new life as a flagship Dome cafe, the grand old building doubles as a second home, an office, a community meeting place and a drop-in pad for anyone who cares to cross its stately threshold.
You don’t have to sit long to witness a Dome moment in this sublime setting – where the slick headquarters of the multi-million dollar international franchise hums away upstairs.
They’re occurring in 120 cafes around the world – 67 in Australia – as the smiley faces on the cappuccinos kick in. And it is spreading across the globe with a raft of newbies having just opened – or about to open – their doors. Punters in Dubai, Bahrain, Butler, Bassendean, Banksia Grove, East Fremantle (on the old Red Herring site), Port Hedland, Katanning and Darwin are getting their daily buzz in shopping centres, old primary schools, historic houses, an old railway carriage and even a site where a pine forest once stood. Each site operates on the same tried and true franchise format – luxurious-yet-homey fit out, friendly service, simple food, and a welcome hug in a coffee cup.
There are around 14 million visitors to Dome each year in Western Australia alone. And three decades on from its humble beginnings as a coffee roasting business,
the franchise now extends into seven countries, where it holds its own amidst the giant coffee multinationals.
As Perth has become far more sophisticated and discerning in its communal coffee palate, the chain has also withstood an influx of too-cool-for-school baristas who trumpet their cold brew coffees and write clever chalkboard odes to the organic fair trade beans they’ve personally picked while donkey trekking in South America.
Obviously there’s longevity and pulling power in all-day eggs hollandaise, grilled chicken burgers and hearty Aussie pies, supplied for the entire chain by the same family-based producers. The simple menu staples are washed down with flat whites made from the same bean blends sourced by Phil May, the company founder who began importing beans and roasting them back in 1983 when most of Perth was still drinking instant coffee.
The story of May joining up with well-known, award-winning Perth businesswoman Patria Jafferies to open one of Perth’s first European-styled cafes in Napoleon
Street, Cottesloe, and the subsequent start of the franchise is now a well-documented part of Perth’s coffee culture.
Jafferies and May have long since moved on but customers still beat a path
to the door of their neighbourhood local where the soundtrack to their $4 coffee
is a constantly changing mix of snippets of life: gossip, tortured baring of souls,
infectious laughter of old mates, the tinkle of teacups and the occasional tearful sharing of sorrows.
The sounds linger long after their cups are drained. No one tells anyone to move
on. That would go against the company ethos that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how you feel... There’s always respite in a strong cup of coffee.