What do you get when you combine 38 international flights fueled by a long distance relationship, four years of marriage and a passion for quality coffee? In the case of Gavin and Natalie Wilkinson, married co-founders of The Aussie Bean, you get a recently opened coffee shop and a newborn baby boy.
The couple brought their Aussie Bean mobile coffee trailer to Chapman two years ago, setting up in the Piazza outside Beckman hall. While still on campus a few days a week, they spend most of their time running the new Aussie Bean coffee shop near the Circle.
Their relationship began when Natalie, 32, and a 2008 Chapman television and broadcast journalism graduate, went to visit Melbourne for her job working for the Tennis Channel to report on the Australian Open in January 2009. She met Gavin, 47, a native Australian and a cameraman at the time. She asked him to record her voicemail because she liked his accent and the two began dating soon after. Gavin describes his contentment with the long period of international flights he had to take to see her frequently:
“A friend of mine asked me, ‘Aren’t you sick of all that flying?’ I said, ‘Distance is just a plane ride. Love is the journey.’”
Natalie ended up getting that phrase engraved on a watch she gave him as a wedding gift and, by chance, Gavin happened to engrave the same thing on her wedding band.
After marrying in February 2012 and settling in Orange County, Gavin had an offer to work for ESPN on the East Coast, but turned it down. Natalie explained:
“We had just done long distance for so long, so we wanted to do something together, a business we could pass down to our children.”
This business manifested itself into The Aussie Bean, fueled by Gavin’s longing for Australian-style coffee whenever he would visit the US to see Natalie:
“I’ve always had a love for coffee. Being Australian, I guess I’m pretty lucky because we grow up with this espresso culture- always great coffee. Fast food coffee just isn’t successful in Australia. The Australian community-style coffee is what we’re trying to get across here.”
With this business plan in mind, the two went to work researching and ultimately created The Aussie Bean together, a business frequented by Chapman students both on campus at the mobile coffee trailer and off campus at their new location in Old Towne Orange, in addition to many other community members.
“We get loads of Aussies that come into the shop every day and they tell us that our coffee takes them back home,” Gavin notes.
Their distinctively Australian koala logo is seen by many students on their way to Beckman Hall on their mobile coffee trailer. Gavin describes the creation of their character design, Jeffrey the Koala, as an easy one:
“We wanted to present to people something they would remember. I spoke to my good mate Craig, who is our graphic designer, and I said, ‘We want brand recognition in the US, something that will make people comfortable and understand that it’s Australian and represents coffee. But I don’t want any marsupials.’”
After receiving initial logos, Gavin and Natalie were happy with what they saw and Jeffrey the Koala was born. Natalie discloses that the design even received the approval of late Chapman professor and first president of Disneyland, Jack Lindquist:
“When I got the design, I was actually at Disneyland with my Chapman50 alumni group behind-the-scenes tour with Jack Linquist, so I thought ‘Who better to ask about the logo than him?’”
“He got real quiet then gave me a thumbs up and said, ‘Oh yes. This is it. Don’t even look at any other logos.’”
Similar to Mickey Mouse, the logo features a cartoon koala making it brand and family-friendly, ideal for their newborn son, Jackson.
Jackson was born on January 2, 2016, close to the opening date of their store in Old Towne Orange on January 26, Australia Day. Gavin, who also has two daughters in Australia from a previous marriage, sees parenting as poignant experience in character building:
“When you set out with kids, your ambition is to mold them into perfect people. But in a sense, what they really do is mold you into the perfect person as well. You have to be a good role model for your kids.”
Natalie describes having a baby as giving her life deeper meaning beyond herself:
“My life has truly found purpose. When I was at Chapman I was in a really bad car accident that nearly took my life and I always wondered why I didn’t die that day. When Jackson was born, I told my mom and Gavin that I thought he was the reason I survived.”
With a new baby and shop arriving soon after one another, Natalie and Gavin have been keeping themselves busy lately. Thankfully, their employees are enjoying working right alongside them as Cassidy Rawlinson, senior sociology major and Aussie Bean employee, divulges:
“Natalie and Gavin are the kindest, most supportive people I have ever worked for. They always go the extra mile to make everyone, employees and customers alike, feel welcome in The Aussie Bean. It has been such a positive environment to work in.”
Kendra Womack, Aussie Bean employee, similarly echoes Rawlinson’s sentiments:
“Working for them has been such a rewarding experience. The environment they’ve created is so welcoming and fun, it doesn’t even feel like work. I feel lucky to have found this place.”
Looking to the future, Gavin and Natalie both hope to expand their business and have time for family.
“We want to keep growing our business and selling our product at other coffee shops. Hope to still be roasting and drinking coffee with my family. Being both here and Australia 50/50 would be great” Gavin says.
Natalie, however, gives a more luxurious outlook:
“In 10 years I want to be laying on a beach in Australia checking my futuristic phone to see how the shop is doing and how our staff is doing, who is our extended family, and watching my kids play on the beach.”
Natalie doesn’t intend to rest on her laurels, however.
“We would be on holiday, by the way. We don’t plan on retiring any time soon!”