Husband and wife Will and Di Keser are the driving forces behind popular brunch cafe, The Hardware Societe in Melbourne, and more recently, in Paris.
It has been eight years since The Hardware Societe opened, but tourists and locals still flock to it for possibly the world’s most favourite meal of the day: brunch.
“I don’t think as many businesses are as busy as Hardware (Societe). It’s not what you strive for, you strive for quality and uniqueness.”
Think Croque Madame, Lobster Benedict, Eggs Cocotte – all of which have consistently wowed its patrons, keeping them coming back for more. Its continued success prompted its owners, husband-and-wife team Will and Di Keser to open another Hardware Societe in Paris last year.
The cafe’s beginnings were sparked by a dormant shop space and a desire to own a business. Will is a chef, while Di has a background in administrative management, so she evenly splits their roles from the get-go.
However, the path to their now flourishing business was not always smooth-sailing. In 2013, a fire broke out nearby and spread quickly to their cafe, razing part of it to the ground. Yet in the face of adversity, their resilience prevailed – rebuild was quick. Three months later, the cafe was back and even more popular than before. How did Di and Will navigate through challenges and begin another fulfilling journey from Melbourne to Paris?
Doyenne: Could you tell us more about what happened during the fire?
Di: The massage parlour next door left their clothes dryer on outside for hours and it caught fire, thus damaging all the tenancies on the ground floor of the building.
We felt stressed but we got through it. A lot has to be said about having the right insurance and a good team of staff.
D: What makes Hardware Societe stand out among the abundance of cafes in Melbourne?
Di: I think we were one of the first in the industry and in particular in the CBD, just like Nathan Toleman of Top Paddock and Salvatore Malatesta of St. Ali. We were pioneers in the industry and we gave a sense of luxury to the breakfast experience.
I don’t think as many businesses are as busy as Hardware (Societe). It’s not what you strive for, you strive for quality and uniqueness.
D: What inspired the both of you to open a Hardware Societe in Paris?
Di: We actually bought a property in Paris at the time of the fire and was spending an increased amount of time here. With that, we wanted to live there but we needed an excuse – but I think it was a pretty good excuse. And our Melbourne team was like, hell yeah, do it. So here we are.
D: How have Parisians received the cafe?
Di: Brilliantly. We couldn’t have been more delighted by their reaction to what we do. That said, just like in Melbourne, we attract a lot of tourists. That may also be because we are directly opposite Sacre Coeur. The location is incredible and I feel pretty blessed we are able to do this here.
D: What were the challenges of opening the cafe in Paris, far away from home?
Di: Language was the biggest. The rest are just like in any other country – once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’s like second nature.
D: How is it like managing your businesses at opposite ends of the world?
Di: It requires a little less sleep, a hell of a lot of trust in all our teams, and a lot of communication. But otherwise, it’s just a normal day in the office!
D: Do you intend to open more branches elsewhere?
Di: I’m itching to do something in Barcelona. It’s coastal and I miss that about Melbourne. The thing is, we have always been passionate and hands on with Hardware, so franchising it is not something that excites or interests us right now.
With our beautiful Beagles here with us in Paris we can’t just pack up and move to Dubai for six months to do an open. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
D: How is it like working with your partner (in marriage)?
Di: It’s easy. I am the very business-oriented one – staff, menus, operational issues – Will is very handy, he builds and fixes things. It’s a good combination as we always knew this was something we wanted to do.
We don’t ever stop talking about work. There is never downtime on that front but we also get to share and enjoy our success. After all, a passion for food, people, and each other were what made us open Hardware Societe together in the first place!
D: Do you have any advice for couples who want to start a business together?
Di: Don’t take things too seriously or take issues home with you. Communicate well and be kind to one another. Remember, a marriage is for life – a business usually isn’t.
Images by The Hardware Societe