Phillip Di Bella: On The Couch and on target

Brisbane coffee king Phil Di Bella has warned that there are tough times ahead for small businesses as JobKeeper comes to a close, but there are also opportunities for agile and adaptive organisations to thrive. 

Feb 25, 2021, updated Mar 22, 2021
Phil Di Bella at Brisbane Business Hub's 'On the Couch' Series

Phil Di Bella at Brisbane Business Hub's 'On the Couch' Series

Speaking at the Brisbane Business Hub’s inaugural ‘On the couch with’ event, the prominent entrepreneur cautioned that the full impact of COVID-19 on the city’s hospitality industry won’t be felt until JobKeeper ends on March 28. 

“What’s going to happen now is a simple formula,” Di Bella said.

“Anyone in this industry who’s been receiving JobKeeper really has to strategise and do the numbers, and anyone who hasn’t been relying on JobKeeper is going to thrive. If you’re getting by now without JobKeeper, then you’re about to get a lot busier, because there will be stores that close. 

“I’ve been talking to liquidators that used to see two to three liquidations a week in the hospitality industry. They’re not even getting two to three a month now.

“Unfortunately, this is a false economy, and what’s going to happen post-JobKeeper is that you’re going to get a lot of businesses that just hand the keys back and say, ‘Well, I’m not receiving $750 per person anymore’. 

“If you’ve got 10 staff at $750 a person, that’s $7,500 that you’re receiving in government benefits per week at the moment. If you’re only treading water now, and then you take away that $7,500, you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out what’s going to happen. So there is a shift coming,” he said. 

Di Bella – who took Di Bella Coffee from a single cart in 2002 to Australia’s largest speciality coffee company, before selling the business in 2017 – added that the businesses most likely to succeed in today’s evolving landscape are those that are able to quickly adapt to new consumer behaviours.

“People don’t change, they evolve,” he said.

“Look at coffee – most people didn’t drink any less coffee through COVID when there were shutdowns, they just changed where they drank coffee and how they drank coffee. 

“Obviously it was hard for cafés in the CBD, but in the suburbs we saw a 20 per cent increase, because people were still going out and getting takeaway at their local, and they were also buying bags of coffee beans to take home.  

“To this day, you can’t just go and buy a coffee machine, because the shelves have been stripped bare. That’s opportunity – one door closes and another opens. Successful people take advantage of that by analysing the data that’s in front of them and making adjustments,” he said. 

Four years on from the sale of Di Bella Coffee, the coffee kingpin will officially open his latest venture, The Coffee Commune, in March.

The state-of-the-art facility in Bowen Hills is being billed as a space where roasters, baristas, venue owners and network suppliers will be able to connect, collaborate and create.  

“There’ll be a public space where people can just come in and enjoy a cup of coffee, but The Coffee Commune is all about accelerating the potential of the industry,” Di Bella said.

“COVID has just enhanced the need for what The Coffee Commune is going to offer, which is a mix of industry advocacy, manufacturing facilities, education and more.”    

Di Bella’s appearance at The Brisbane Business Hub, a new initiative helping local operators to transform and grow their businesses and bounce back from the economic impact of the coronavirus, was the first in a series of free ‘On the couch with’ events that will feature Brisbane’s most successful and innovative business leaders.  


The next session will be held on Thursday 22 April, with pioneering Vita Group CEO Maxine Horne who will hit the Couch to share the story of how she grew a single store into an ASX-listed brand worth in excess of $600 million; the why and how of product diversification; how to put yourself out there and build a personal brand; and the power of connections and networking. Register for the free session with Maxine here.  

On Wednesday 26 May, Don Meij – Group CEO and Managing Director of Domino’s, and one of Australia’s most acclaimed and awarded entrepreneurs and business leaders – will share his journey from pizza delivery driver to the head of Australia’s largest and first publicly-listed pizza chain; and discuss the opportunities for Brisbane’s food and beverage landscape in FY22 and beyond. Register for the free session with Don here. 

More ‘On the couch with’ sessions will be announced throughout the year. 

The Brisbane Business Hub, which is a joint initiative of Brisbane City Council and Brisbane Economic Development Agency, has a jam-packed calendar of free workshops and events to help local business transform and grow. Explore the upcoming events here. 

The Brisbane Business Hub also offers one-on-one and group mentoring sessions with more than 35 local experts and industry thought leaders; a variety of online training courses for small businesses; an archive of detailed case studies and local success stories; and the latest COVID-19 guidance and assistance 

Ready to transform and grow your business? Drop into the Brisbane Business Hub at Level 2, 155 Queen Street, or check-out the upcoming calendar of events and workshops at 

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