Getting to Know Jessica Godfrey

We're celebrating our small but perfectly formed bookshop & cafes this Friday for NZ's first Small Business Day! It's been a tough ride this last year for us and other small businesses in Aotearoa, so we're championing all those local and family enterprises doing the hard-yards and bringing Kiwis the best in shopping and hospitality.

Our General Manager, Jessica Godfrey, shares what she loves about leading our small neighbourhood business and why she loves supporting small in Wellington.

It's time for us to show appreciation for the people who support us. Just swing by our café and bookshops on Friday 9 April and share a photo of your experience here, or at any other small business, on Instagram. Tag @smallbusinessdaynz, use the hash #choosesmallnz and you could win $150k worth of prizes! 

What is your day job?

GM of Vic Books - my home of coffee and books! 

You joined Vic Books one month before the lockdown of 2020! What was one of the challenges you faced?

I had a three week timeframe to turn the Vic Books "kiosk", which had been closed since the previous October, into something meaningful. I drew on my network, the CEO of Coffee Supreme, came up with the name after a mini-brain dump. My brother-in-law created the logo from a sketch I'd hand drawn. My partner and I walked around Bunnings trying to find an affordable building solution that didn't have to be affixed because the University wouldn't let us construct anything permanent. Short Story launched as a 100% disposable-free espresso and toastie bar on the first Monday of Trimester One. I thought it looked and functioned beautifully, staff seemed really proud of it and then 22 days later I was sending a message to all staff to go home and spend the next two days readying themselves for lockdown. Short Story never re-opened. 

Where did you come from before joining Vic Books?

I think I've had some of the coolest jobs in Wellington. I worked for Caffe L'affare after graduating and coming back from my OE. I was their first ever marketing manager - I'm pretty sure I asked them to create the role for me. Our blend Primo was the first, second, and third biggest selling coffee in supermarkets nationwide (plunger grind, whole beans, espresso grind). But Wellingtonians really perceived L'affare as just a cafe. I moved with the former owners to their start-up Acme cups which I helped build and flagship Prefab. Then Coffee Supreme as International Marketing Manager which supplied cafes across New Zealand, Australia and Japan and had six cafes.

So, really I've always been connected to businesses that have a core inventory if you like (be it bags of coffee or books) with this engaging hospitality side to it. I love working in a business that you can have such an effect on people's every day. Good coffee, good food, nice surroundings, people watching add to that a book that will engage your mind. I cannot think of anything more every day magical. 

What's the best thing about managing a small business?

I like mapping out the way ahead, but I also really enjoy mucking in. In a small business you have to do both. Be strategic but also roll your sleeves up. I like being in direct contact with our customers. 

Can you describe Vic Books in three words?

My happy project.

At Vic Books, bookworms can choose their new reads and enjoy a coffee at the same time. How do small enterprises differ from big name retailers?

It is the independent stores and cafes that give a location its uniqueness, character and life blood. Even our bookshops and cafes at Kelburn and Pipitea have their own individual characteristics because of the customers they cater to. When we have friends staying with us from out of town, we take them to the places they don't have in their own home. It's actually quite interesting when you visit a city and try to find its "Cuba Street". Not every city has one. If individuality is important to you, you have to recognise it and support it. 

What's one of the trickiest things about leading a small business?

Being good enough at all the things you need to be good at. 

Vic Books Pipitea Bookshop

Indie bookshops have been threatened by online giants and big chains for years - how has this changed during the last 12 months? Are people choosing small?

I think for a lot of us, lockdown had its stresses but it also forced a slowdown and an appraisal of what was important. I found I appreciated my neighbourhood even more. And I know a lot of friends were really uncomfortable with how much we all rely upon overseas products. 

Under Level 3, Vic Books could only trade online, it's when we added the Journal, interviews with members of our community, daily book reviews, our Kid's Surprise Bag and our online Storytime. Even online we kept it local and there was a lot of support and appreciation of that I think. 

Take the corner dairy for instance, once they start to close, your suburban hub dies, and impromptu meeting spots disappear. I think if you're at risk of lamenting the days when you could make a short walk for bread and milk, you should start frequenting your local again. And soon. Our dairy has really good beer, it's maybe $2 per six pack more expensive, but I'll pay that for the chats and a place my son can walk to for an ice block.

And, you know, it really is worth it. I certainly appreciated still having a local dairy during lockdown! 

Can you give a shout out to other small businesses you love in Wellington?

Rita and Garage Project - I go past them every day. Even if I'm not stopping I still poke my nose in the window. Quality-driven and very friendly. I love seeing who's around. Aro Street is Wellington at its best.

What's something that not many people know about you?

I once wrote a book for Random House about coffee. 

Some quick fire book recommendations please!

The Platform: The Radical Legacy of the Polynesian Panthers 
My brother can recall, aged 8, a woman yelling "Overstayer" to my mother. A police officer in the 1970s, approached her on Lambton Quay and accused her of kidnapping me and my twin sister. Mommy would help some of the Samoan families who had been taken into custody by translating, but she always took her passport in case she too were arrested. This book is important to me and my family. 

Nothing to See - Pip Adam is just an amazing, generous talent.

Burnt Sugar - that intense mother-daughter relationship, fingers crossed for the Womens Prize.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine. 

What do you like about it?

I am a twin and I have a BA in linguistics, so a book about language and twin sibling rivalry ticks the boxes. 

Which literary character do you most identify with and why?

I guess so very many of us would say Elizabeth Bennet. She is why the book is so popular. She is so very relatable! I have five sisters. I am in love with a reticent man with no improper pride and I choose laughter over smiles every time.

Hardback or paperback?

Paperback.

Favourite coffee?

My most memorable coffee was a clean natural processed coffee from El Salvador, served to me as a single espresso by the future Australian Barista Champion Craig Simon, which I scored as 5.5 / 6 in the semi-final round. In the finals, the very next day, the coffee had already changed. It had become more wild. Funky even. It was one of my first lessons in how unstable and exciting some really exceptional coffees can be and I thought it was really brave of Craig to choose to compete with it. 

Vic Books Kelburn Cafe