If you had to guess the catalyst that led to Alec Gribble's start in hospitality, a cricket injury probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But what about three cricket injuries? (He’s not clumsy – just dedicated, we promise)
You see, after putting his body (or, more specifically, his wrists) on the line one too many times, Alec had to find a task that would help him build up his wrist strength. That’s when he turned his focus to coffee, carving out a career in some of Melbourne’s most beloved and innovative cafes. Eventually, brewing coffee gave way to his other passion – pouring wine – and he’s been working evening shifts ever since.
Alec sat down with us – over coffee, of course – to share his story.
You cut your teeth in some of Melbourne’s best cafes, can you give us a rundown?
I learnt how to make coffee while I was studying at uni. Over the years, I’d had two wrist reconstructions from cricket injuries. The specialist said making coffee was intense but wouldn’t hurt to build strength back in my wrist.
I started working at a cafe around the corner from my parents' house. It was a fairly chill place and I wanted to go somewhere a more intense. I’ve always been a bit nerdy and thought, ‘If I’m gonna make coffee, I want to do it somewhere they’re serious about it.”
That’s when I went to Pillar of Salt in Richmond, before moving to Top Paddock, then there was a new cafe called Apte (Nathan Toleman’s first cafe). After that, I joined the team that set up Kettle Black, then went on to Mammoth in Armadale, did a pop-up in Brunswick – and then I blew my wrist for the third time and decided to try something else.
How much coffee were you drinking while you worked in cafes?
I'd be at work around 6am, and by 8am I would’ve had around 10 coffees. I would always be the one that other staff would come to to taste things to see if they were right, so it adds up.
Do you still drink that much coffee?
I still brew coffee at home – I'll have a pour-over in the morning. And then a bit of coffee at Attica just before service, but that's about it.
Is the pour-over your favourite way of brewing coffee at home? And can you give us the scoop on your favourite local coffee beans?
Pour-over, for sure. In terms of beans, I like Market Lane – that’s who we work with at Attica, and they’re awesome. They’re super impressive in terms of how they source their green material and have ongoing relationships with the farmers.
I also really love Wood and Co, the cafe near my house started selling their beans during lockdown and they basically kept me alive.
What other area of hospitality did you want to move into after injuring your wrist again?
I wanted to focus on something in-depth like I had with coffee. I’m a bit of a nerd like that. So, the first thing I did when I could write again was sit a wine exam. Somehow, I sneakily got into a higher-level course than I should have been able to.
I started working in a wine shop, as well as picking up a little bit of cafe work to cover rent. One day, I an old friend came into work and told me the restaurant she worked at was looking for a sommelier – that’s how I started working at Kisume before I ended up at Attica.
Are there a lot of similarities between wine and coffee?
I'd always been really into knowing the deeper side of coffee and translated that to wine. The difference is that the public is much more willing to listen to you about wine knowledge than they are about coffee. It was super fun for me because I’d wanted to talk to people about all this random, nerdy, in-depth stuff for ages.
I had always looked at coffee, focussing on details like origin, how it’s grown, how it’s processed, along with how it’s roasted and brewed as a way to understand its flavour. Wine is similar – if anything, it’s just on a deeper level that you appreciate those influences.
We can’t finish without getting you to shoutout some local wines. What are you enjoying at the moment?
We had Neil Hawkins from The Wine Farm down in Gippsland visit the restaurant yesterday – he’s doing some really cool stuff, particularly around how he’s farming. I’m also a big fan of what William Downie and Patrick Sullivan are doing out in Gippsland too. The region is huge, so it’s cool to see them bringing some site specificity to it.
Let Alec and the team take care of you on your next visit to Attica.