WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mojo rising

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Mojo Invincible and the former SherbetMojo already has six cafés in Wellington, and the cartel continues to expand. There's an outlet planned for the ground floor of the Watermark apartments, and according to the neighbours, there will soon be a Mojo in upper Cuba St. The website news page mentions something called "Mojo on the run", and there's also good reason to believe that Mojo Invincible in Willis St is about to expand into the space next door (that was recently vacated by Sherbet).

The question is: when does a much-loved local success story become a depressing chain store? Mojo has done more than most chains to avoid homogeneity across its outlets: the slickness of State contrasts with the ornate Old Bank and the industrial chic of Factory; the openness and light of Summit responds to the style and location of the contemporary building in which it is housed, while Invincible opts for dark Old World inwardness. Some are strictly daytime cafés, while others have flirted with becoming wine bars. Variety, local origins, style and quality have helped distinguish Mojo from the likes of Starbucks, Esquire and Gloria Jean's. But that can only go so far. Are we already starting to think "oh yawn, another Mojo"?

17 Comments:

At 10:49 pm, June 24, 2007, Anonymous Brenda said...

a friend of mine has a theory -- restaurants/cafes only have so much "karma". When they open in a second location that karma is halfed between them.


that said, Mojo invicible is definitely the best mojo in town.

 
At 8:58 am, June 25, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"restaurants/cafes only have so much 'karma'. When they open in a second location that karma is halfed between them."

There's a lot in that: Anthony Bourdain says something similar in Kitchen Confidential. Does that apply to Auntie Meena's, though? They advertise themselves as "karma free", so presumably they could expand forever without effect :-)

"that said, Mojo invicible is definitely the best mojo in town."

Oh yes. Both in terms of atmosphere and due to the fact that it's a bar as well! Part of its charm rests on its intimate (= cramped) space, but on the other hand, I've reluctantly given up going there for breakfast because perching on a stool and trying to read the paper on a tiny table is not as relaxing as spreading out at Ernesto or Scopa. If they do the expansion well, it could really succeed.

 
At 9:22 am, June 25, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

I suppose the other two major differences between Mojo and Starbucks etc is that
1. The coffee is good and
2. I presume Mojo's totally NZ-owned, so the $4.50 that they take from me on a daily basis stays in the country sort of.

 
At 9:29 am, June 25, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Jo: Yes, I agree with those two points. I'd also add:

3. Mojo cafes actually look good, unlike the plasticky suburban horrors of Starbucks, Gloria Jean's and Esquires.

Speaking of which, have you seen the steaming pile of tackiness that is the new Esquires in Courtenay Central? Good god. And there's another of them about to open in Featherston St. There could be a million Mojos in the world, and they'd still have more individuality, style and charm than Esquires.

 
At 12:55 pm, June 25, 2007, Blogger Stephen said...

Mojo do get negative points for having a website:
- with a pointless intro page
- entirely in flash
- which demands that I choose a background image before it deigns to let me actually use it

For some reason I find Wishbone far more offputting than Mojo, however. Perhaps it's because their outlets are more sterile, or perhaps it's because they are far more similar (right down to the ultra-skinny female counter staff), or perhaps it's just the twee slogans on their sandwich boards.

 
At 1:48 pm, June 25, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Stephen, I agree 100% about that website. I wanted to link to the specific locations, but of course all the Flashiness precludes deep-linking.

I see what you mean about Wishbone, too, though perhaps one reason that they're not welcoming is that they're sandwich takeaway shops, so (in general) there's nowhere to sit. Mojo certainly encourages you to come in, sit down and enjoy your coffee/hot chocolate/lunch.

And I also hate that craze for pointless little quotes: they were funny for about five minutes back in about 1997, but unless they've got something really funny or insightful (which they don't) they really grate.

 
At 2:21 pm, June 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Starbucks has a well publicized policy of self-cannibalization. That is that they would prefer to open competing outlets in the same area, than allow a competitor to get a foothold. This is why in the States you will literally see starbucks across the street from each other. In one case in NY Starbucks has a location on the ground floor and in the observation tower.

Perhaps Mojo is trying to beat them at their game?

In a perfect world it would be best to have a city filled with independent coffee houses, but if the choice is between an everpresent chain of disgusting coffee in cliched environments that is international, or an everpresent chain of good coffee with interesting environments, that is locally owned, I'd chose the latter.

 
At 2:50 pm, June 25, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"In a perfect world it would be best to have a city filled with independent coffee houses, but if the choice is between an everpresent chain of disgusting coffee in cliched environments that is international, or an everpresent chain of good coffee with interesting environments, that is locally owned, I'd chose the latter."

Exactly what I think. I still think that if Mojo are smart, they'd know that they're never going to appeal to the people who think Starbucks and Gloria Jean's are cool, and that over-familiarity could kill their brand. Rather than opening more Mojos, if they want to continue to expand, then maybe they should help independent operators get started with a "package" of Mojo coffee, basic equipment, training and advice, but leave many of the design and operating decisions up to the individual stores. That way they can keep their empire growing, but avoid the impression that they're turning into Starbucks.

 
At 3:28 pm, June 25, 2007, Anonymous Jimmy said...

"...but if the choice is between an everpresent chain of disgusting coffee in cliched environments that is international, or an everpresent chain of good coffee with interesting environments, that is locally owned, I'd chose the latter."

I suppose that's right, but with all lesser of two evils cases we are still talking about two evils.

To my mind there are a number of rules for describing something as a depressing chain store:

a) More than one outlet in the same area / suburb of a city. ie: More than one in the CBD.
b) More than two in one city. ie: One in Brooklyn, one in the CBD.
c) More than three in a geographical region ie: One in Lower Hutt, one in Brooklyn & one in the CBD.

It can be hard though, obviously loads of people are stoked to have a Wishbone within 100m of wherever they are, but for me as soon as you start getting that many of the same thing open it all starts to look a little bit McDonaldsy. And that is when I start trying to avoid it.

Oddly im more comfortable with a place like McDonalds that is aware of what it is, than something like Wishbone / Mojo that tries to pretend it isn't.

 
At 4:39 pm, June 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The key here is difference. The fact that there are two Mojo cafes within 50m of each other at Lambton/Willis is frightening on paper, but when the density of that area's working populations are considered and the layout and difference in both their design and their function/target market means that in reality, the 'chain' effect is somewhat negated.

I see the Mojo cafes (and the cafes that sell Mojo coffee - are Republic and Fresco (also the same) included as part of the cartel?) as analogous, although the parallels aren't readily apparent, to petrol stations. They are selling exactly the same product, in the same packaging, to markets that are distinct only due to location - the smaller mojos, for me at least, are patronised due to convenience rather than as destinations. There is no difference in price and the only other factors in deciding on using one or the other are the limitations of your schedule and geography, and the extras. The extras are in the case of Mojo, the environment/atmosphere/really small tables, and in the case of petrol stations, the strength of their retail, loyalty programmes and historic service.

Which is why, if I have the time and the weather's not too bad, I'll spurn the Old Bank, State Insurance and Taranaki/Wakefield Mojos in favour of Invincible.*

I don't know about the package franchise concept - I'd prefer that if anything each brand was limited to a maximum of two or three stores. So any new one opening up would be say "John's Coffee House, a member of the Mojo coffee cartel" except without the cheesiness. :) You'll never really undermine the whole chain store setup, but at least that way you'd be paying lip service to the idea that it's not necessarily a pleasing aesthetic.

*Which I swear to god has better hot chocolate.

 
At 5:39 pm, June 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuck Mojo ! I don't drink Coffee so i don't give a damn. Take your stinking beans and shove them. A world full of coffee shops is just as tedious as a world full of banks.....

 
At 9:19 am, June 26, 2007, Anonymous Jimmy said...

Funny that you mentioned petrol stations. Because these have increasingly become more homogenous in look & branding - more "chain" like than they were when I was a kid. I remember after Rugby on a saturday we would go to Westlowe's Motordrome for a snack, not Caltex.

 
At 11:16 am, June 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing about good coffee people like Mojo is that they love and care about the product they market. Whereas sandwich bars, including operations like Wishbone, care about . . . well, what you give them for the sandwiches.

 
At 11:42 am, June 26, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Anon n-1: Whoa! Were you savaged by a barista as a child?

Cafes are about far more than coffee. It's hard to admit for a Wellingtonian, but I didn't drink coffee at all until my mid-20s, yet all through my early 20s I pretty much lived in cafes (City Limits, Midnight Espresso, Espressoholic, Lido etc). I drank hot chocolate, lemon & ginger, soft drinks or wine, and ate cake or had dinner, while writing, reading or meeting friends.

Maybe you can do that in banks now, but I doubt it. Thus, I think that "coffee shops" are an important part of the city and worth writing abour.

 
At 8:55 am, July 02, 2007, Anonymous Johnny-johnny said...

I get a laugh from this Curb Your Enthusiasm video on Starbucks every time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y__ZDevLq28

 
At 2:51 pm, July 10, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Rather than opening more Mojos, if they want to continue to expand, then maybe they should help independent operators get started with a "package" of Mojo coffee, basic equipment, training and advice, but leave many of the design and operating decisions up to the individual stores."

That other well-known coffee place did that, and it worked better for the bank balances than for the quality of the coffee.

Expansion is always going to hurt you in some place, I suppose. Mojo are doing ok but I have always found their coffee a little too mild.

Personally, I'd rather a People's Ethiopian or Don. Easy for me to say, I guess, sitting here at home next to my E61 Rocket and my magical coffee-making girlfriend.

 
At 11:43 am, July 16, 2007, Blogger James said...

I'll have to go try the invincible Mojo. I've only tried the one at the base of Mt Vic, Never again I'm afraid. I gave them a few chances but their service in the weekends is on the unacceptable side of bad. (I've had a couple of lunches there during the week and it was ok) And it's a pity, it is such a nicely designed shop too.

 

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