The naked truth
A love of maths and science led this BSSC Alumni on a pathway to the perfect brew
Back in 2006, while most Year 12 students were spending their evenings doing homework and calculating university entry scores, Jesse Gollan was already entrenched in the world of hospitality.
By day he studied maths and science at Bendigo Senior Secondary College (BSSC), while his evenings were spent just a stone’s throw away in Pall Mall—working full-time at the popular eatery, Barzurk.
“I loved the diversity and freedom of BSSC after coming from a school where my entire year level was a class of 20 students,” Jesse says. “Not just the freedom to head into town at lunchtime or hang out in Rosalind Park, but the freedom to choose subjects I was really into.”
Jesse always thought he would end up doing something engineering-based—practical science, as he calls it.
“I’ve always liked knowing how things work,” he says, “but I knew at the time I didn’t have the patience or maturity to go straight from school to university. I started a TAFE course in Multi-Media Design, but was too young to make the most of it. I think I needed time to find out who I was.”
It wasn’t long before he directed his curiosity to the science of making the perfect brew.
Coffee had always been a part of his restaurant work, but Jesse soon found himself wanting to spend more and more time behind the espresso machine. The café industry seemed a lot more appealing after years of working in restaurants.
He was managing a popular local café when the initial idea for Get Naked Espresso Bar was born.
“I’d seen first-hand how hard it was to build a business around food; how coffee supports most cafes,” Jesse says. “I wanted to build a successful business that just sold great coffee, without all the bells and whistles.
“We opened our first store with shoddy benches and milk crates to sit on. I didn’t spend unnecessary money on the set-up to begin with—it was purely about the product.”
The ‘Get Naked’ branding was inspired by naked portafilters. For non-coffee-purists, a naked portafilter is exactly the same as a normal portafilter handle, with the spouts removed—showing the ‘naked’ bottom of the basket that holds the coffee. It meant Jesse could monitor the extraction process… aim for perfection.
What he didn’t expect, was to create a culture that one customer has called ‘a friendly, coffee-loving community’.
Jesse likes to think of it as the Get Naked family.
“I never expected the culture and friend-base to become so strong so quickly,” he says. “The staff are a big part of why it works—the layers of friendship and support intertwined with the staff group across the different stores.
“Many business owners would say it’s a risk to employ friends, but it’s really nice to be in a position now to include people I love and trust.”
The heart of Get Naked’s very special culture was apparent at last year’s Christmas celebrations, where all the staff and friends of the business dressed up as Jesse for the occasion.
“It was very, very funny, but also incredibly touching,” Jesse remembers.
The Get Naked empire now includes the flagship store in Mitchell Street, and stores in White Hills, View Street, View Point (opposite the fountain) and, until November, the coffee tram in Rosalind Park—with a view of Jesse’s old school above.
Handle Bar opened at the rear of the Mitchell Street shop in 2013—a community-activated space with 30 investors and four directors—the perfect flow-on of the coffee shop model.
Jesse seems to have knack for taking difficult or previously unsuccessful sites and breathing new life into them. The White Hills store had been vacant for 12 months before Get Naked moved in.
“The response from local workers and business owners was immediately positive,” Jesse recalls. “People were like, ‘this is a perfect spot for coffee’.”
Similarly, the View Street site was sitting unused and silent before Jesse opened the window and began selling coffee. It’s now a quintessential part of the View Street art precinct.
Jesse knows, however, you can never drop your guard when it comes to business, and particularly coffee, where there’s so much room for error.
“It’s such a volatile product,” he says. “Things like temperature and humidity—the age and freshness of the beans—they all affect the end product.
“The bar has definitely been raised when it comes to coffee in Bendigo. Customers are a lot more knowledgeable and know what they want. We can’t just sit on our hands and rely on what we were doing six years ago. We’re always scrutinising how we can enrich people’s experience.”
While Jesse’s memories of his BSSC days are a little hazy, he still has a strong affection for the old school on the hill.
His advice for the class of 2019 is not to stress so much over ‘career’ choices or pathways.
“Don’t lock yourself in to something if you’re unsure about it,” he says. “There’s plenty of time to explore the things you’re curious about.”
Story by John Holton
Photo by Leon Schoots