One of the first places where I felt at home when we moved to Lane Cove February 2019 was Lil Lane Café.

Something about the logo, the interior space, which is stripped down minimalist with wooden tables and splashes of green, welcomed me.

When the COVID pandemic hit, Lil Lane responded in the best possible way with a coffee pick-up station outside. They provided hand sanitiser and dance music to welcome each and every day. Like that, I became a regular and joined their loyalty program, which thankfully, doesn’t involve a card. It’s all online. All I have to do is tell them my name and up it comes and the points add up quickly for me.

The owner, Justin knows me by name and that’s another personal touch that brings me back for more of their five senses brand of beans. As an inquiring mind, I wanted to find out more about how Justin came to be the face of Lil Lane and a fellow Lane Covian. He is one of the lucky ones who lives where he works.

A Journey, Seoul to Sydney

Justin got his start in the bustling capital of S. Korea, Seoul. He could see that many of his friends stopped living and got caught up in a competitive lifestyle that seemed to threaten his desire to live a balanced life. So he set out to try something different and arrived in Sydney back in 2005 as an English student.

In Sydney, though a large and busting city by Australian standards, Justin found the ease, fairness and honesty he was seeking. “As long as one works hard and is honest one can enjoy a nice life.” he says. Nothing ventured nothing gained as they say so he sacrificed his time and money to earn his degree in accounting from Macquarie University to become a permanent resident. All of that work was well worth it for him. He worked in various cafes throughout his student days and a family Korean BBQ but always with the intention to start his own café one day. The café business has been good to him too. It was while working in a café in Chatswood that he met his wife, who’s now the chef at Lil Lane. She’s the one who comes up with the imaginative, delicious and well-proportioned breakfast and lunch menus. If you sense an artist’s touch at Lil Lane, that’s his wife. She’s a good visual artist Justin tells me.

To those who know him, Justin is the textbook example of an extrovert who gets on easily with customers, learning their names and preferences quickly. It was no surprise that though Justin started out in the kitchen, washing dishes, he soon moved on to barista jobs and from working at other cafes to owning his café.

Coming to Five Senses

At Lil Lane they serve Five Senses Coffee and that’s to do with shared core values. Justin, a people person, focuses on providing the best possible experience to appeal to all five senses. This is the ethos at Five Senses too. They helped Justin with the fit-out, set up his coffee machine, sharing tips for a delicious cuppa and provided training to get him and his team started.

Lil Lane’s style is minimalist and tidy so his staff can focus on the customers and his customers on their food. The food is appealing to the eye and to the taste buds and the portions are generous. Besides seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching, there are those intangibles we can’t quite put our finger on that makes an experience we have either satisfying and wholesome or not.

Justin is aware of this too. He keeps his eyes, mind and heart open to opportunities and works with technology that makes the process of ordering the coffees and food and reaping loyalty rewards almost seamless for his staff and customers.

His conscious intention to take care of his staff pays off.

The Lil Lane Experience

The thing that caught my attention was on a particularly dark day of the COVID cloud during lockdown. Justin was pumping out music and a small gathering in the front were waiting for their coffees whilst maintaining a 1,5 metre distance.

When my name was called, a friendly young lady with short hair, a pastel yellow fuzzy sweater and matching nails handed me my coffee. For a brief moment, I was transported to my childhood, for the pastel colour was exactly the same shade as a toy VW bug my brother and I played with growing up.

“Nice nails, and I don’t usually like yellow nail polish.” I told her and she smiled at me as sweetly as a candy yellow VW bug.

Now that’s how you serve coffee with style and art, engaging all of the senses.

Over to you…

What was a memorable café or dining experience you had during the lockdown and why was it special to you?