Entrepreneurs: Duffy’s Travers Chue on coffee and fashion

At age 29, Travers Chue is an enthusiastic backer of Papua New Guinea’s fledgling café society. But as Rod Myer reports, his family’s entrepreneurial flair is also seeing the business expand.

Travers Chue

Travers Chue

The Duffy café he opened with his brothers a couple of years ago (with French girlfriend Olga Girault training staff) has been so successful, it’s now regarded as Port Moresby’s hottest destination for coffee and a catch up. And it is expanding.

‘We’re extending the café; putting in a bigger kitchen and more seating,’ says Chue. ‘There’ll be a bigger offering, with a lot more food items. We’re building a creperie to serve savoury and sweet crepes and a French patisserie to bake our own breads, baguettes, croissants and so on.’

Upstairs, downstairs

But Duffy is more than a café. Upstairs, the brothers run a clothing retailer, also branded Duffy, which sells clothing and accessories to a market that is starved for choice.

‘Before we opened, you could only get clothing in the supermarket or second-hand shops. There was nothing for anyone. We originally catered to the youth market but have moved into providing something for everyone, as there’s not much variety here,’ Chue says.

The only condition he placed on us was that we move to China for a year and learn Mandarin.

Answering the call of family

The success Chue is currently enjoying didn’t just happen. It is part of a well-executed inter-generational plan with a family flair for entrepreneurship.

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Travers Chue’s PNG-Chinese father, Paul, owned a manufacturing and distributing operation for Coca-Cola in PNG for nearly 40 years. But three years ago, Coke changed its global strategy and took the manufacturing in-house, so the Chues went out on their own.

Some of Pacific Industries' soft drink range

Some of Pacific Industries’ soft drink range

Now the family company, Pacific Industries, produces its own carbonates, cordials,  juices and foodstuffs. Its new cola line is labelled GoGo Cola.

Travers and his brothers went to secondary school and university in Brisbane, Australia. After university, Travers moved to Sydney and went into the fashion industry with his brother Ash and a friend, forming a label called Trash Tusa which, he says, ‘sold to 40 boutiques’.

‘After five years, we got a call from Dad who asked: “Are you happy with what you’re doing or would you like to come back and learn the family business?” We decided to go back and he said: “Do it soon as it will take me five to 10 years to train you to manage the takeover.” We agreed to that. The only condition he placed on us was that we move to China for a year and learn Mandarin,’ says Chue. His brothers did two-year stints in China, while Travers spent a year.

A hole in the market

“When we moved back, dad saw a hole in the market for fashion and said to me: “If you want to learn, start something new in fashion. I‘ll give you the property and you build the store. It will be a good learning curve for you.”’

Travers agreed but had also noticed that there ‘was absolutely nowhere you could get a decent coffee in Moresby’.

His frustration and the realisation that coffee had good potential business saw him build on two levels, with Duffy Café on the ground floor and Duffy Fashion above.

Then his father’s initial stipulation on learning Mandarin proved its worth.

‘We went back to China and designed and manufactured a whole clothing range for Duffy Fashion,’ Chue says.

The business has been so successful that Travers is looking at other sites in Moresby for another coffee and clothing outlet. This time, however, both outlets don’t have to be on one site. After that, there may be opportunities in Lae, he says.

Barista culture

PNG, of course, has some of the best coffee in the world but there was no barista culture to make the most of it.

‘It comes down to training,’ says Chue, who observes that Duffy Café’s clientele are ‘all sorts’. ‘A lot are expats who are used to quality coffee, and affluent nationals who have been to Australia and expect more. Also, there are a lot of people who want to escape. When you get outside in Moresby, it’s quite dusty with a lot of hustle and bustle. Here is a little escape. You can come into the cafe and unwind.’