Importing beans, exporting results

Design x Functionality / Meron works with designers and architects to complete the speciality experience.
- If you want to be the best, you have to have all the best knowledge and practice - says Managing Partner and Head of Business Development for Meron, Crina Ciocian.

The taste and demand for a high-quality cup of specialty coffee is spreading throughout the European continent. For many, it's more than just a caffeine fix, it's a lifestyle choice. Meron, who have recently celebrated their sixth birthday, were among the first coffee shop that brought the specialty coffee in their city. "Just as someone might like a good glass of wine, we are finding more and more people now want a good cup of coffee," says Crina Ciocian, Managing Partner and Head of Business Development for Meron Coffee.

The Independent recently published an article, claiming that Romania's second biggest city, Cluj has Eastern Europe's "coolest café culture" and included Meron as a must visit if you are in a search for coffee. We spoke to Ms. Ciocian from Meron Coffee about the development of specialty coffee in Romania and the successful company's desire to branch out into Europe and the Middle East.

How many stores do you currently have? Of which, how many are company owned and how many are franchised?

We currently have twenty stores in total, so far. Ten of which are our own stores. The other ten are franchises all around Romania. As entrepreneurs, we wanted to see and experiment what it's like to manage our own coffee shops - that's why we have been developing our own stores.

In two weeks, we are opening a new store in Sibiu - which is a really nice historical city in Romania.

Right now, I'm in Timișoara, which is the third largest city in Romania. I'm on the construction site of our first store in this city. We're currently running over the architectural and designing plans with our builders and making sure we are on track for completion. It's imperative for us to get on site as to ensure our designs match with the work-flow. Otherwise, our baristas won't be happy with us. It can't just be a beautiful workspace; it also has to be functional.

In terms of the coffee shops, we are trying to optimize what we have already built because none of us had previous experience in the hospitality industry – so we had to learn everything from scratch. We have had experience as entrepreneurs, but we knew very little about specialty coffee when we opened our first coffee shop. We had to learn everything from the beginning, to develop procedures, recipes, and training programs for the baristas. We've been to a lot of coffee festivals, coffee events, competitions, and coffee farms and so we've improved our knowledge of the industry.

What's your secret to a good brew?

It starts with the product. We source the best coffee beans from the farmers directly and take pride in knowing some of them personally. I actually just returned from Panama, where we went to some of our old partners and went in search for other farms we would like to work with as we expand. This is significant for our management team.

We have our own roastery and this way we can control the quality of the coffee beans and how they are roasted. Our roasting profile is very light, it's more like a Nordic style of flavor approach in order to highlight the origin of the coffee. Almost every day we have cuppings in the roastery.

We are simply trying to have the best coffee possible. For us, this has been confirmed by an increase number of orders of our coffee beans from other specialty coffee shops. We have even started to receive requests to send our coffees to places such as France, Northern Europe as well as a few partners here in Eastern Europe. It's nice to get good feedback, and it has been a big focus for us over the last few years.

Beyond the beans, what makes Meron Coffee the best coffee company in Romania?

I think it's a combination between the quality of the product, the knowledge of our baristas, their continuous training and our way of communicating and marketing the brand. We have a strict policy about all of these procedures. If you go to a Meron store, it's impossible to find that the barista doesn't know the origins or recipes.

I recognize that it may seem like we have strict procedures and rules in the company, but at the same time our colleagues understand that if you want to be the best, you have to have all the best knowledge and practice. It's not enough in our industry to just press a button and keep the coffee flowing. For Meron, customers and their experience are very important. This is why it's so important to have the best product and high levels of knowledge and training.

What demographic markets would you say Meron caters for?

I would say maybe young-mature, educated, active people. People who are concerned in what they eat and what they drink because they're interested in their lifestyle. Our coffee is not the cheapest, as the coffee we buy is high-quality. Therefore, if you want to have the best quality coffee beans, you need to pay for it. And our customers understand that they're not paying just for a high-quality product, they are paying for an experience.

We invest in the knowledge and experience of our baristas. Plus, we have invested in our locations. We work with designers and architects, and only use the best coffee equipment. This way, for our customers, Meron is a whole experience.

You're currently based out of Romania. Are you looking to expand within the country first or are you looking for international franchisees? Where have you had any interest?

We are very interested in some of the bigger cities in Europe.

There were issues during the pandemic with border closures, which slowed down international progression. I've had several discussions and am interested in developing the company in other cities in Europe. At the moment we're interested in the UK, Northern Europe, Spain, Austria and even in Dubai - who has shown a growing interest in specialty coffee. 

What are your short-term business goals, and what is the long-term objective?

We've always said that it's ok to make plans – but we are not too strict on our plans coming to fruition because that's not always how life works. The beautiful side of entrepreneurship is that you can do what you want, when you want, and can conduct business with whoever you want. So, we are trying to keep this promise to ourselves.

Firstly, we want to consolidate our presence in Romania by opening the two new stores I've mentioned, plus another two more in Bucharest, our capital. We want to make sure that all the locations we have are optimized, work well and have good management.

In the long term, we want to have a presence in Europe – with a target of five or six major cities. Another goal is to increase the commercial sales of our roasters coffee beans across Europe.

Crina Ciocian, Managing Partner and Head of Business Development for Meron / "In the long term, we want to have a presence in Europe – with a target of five or six major cities. Another goal is to increase the commercial sales of our roasters coffee beans across Europe."