Chats over coffee with the new owners of Acme Cups

Having worked their way up in the business founded by Bridget Dunn and Jeff Kennedy in 2011, the new owners of Pōneke/Wellington’s Acme, Megan Wyper and Paddy Kennedy, already know the company like the back of their hands. They’re devoted to designing functional products from the perspective of coffee professionals for coffee professionals and the rest of us, while Bridget and Jeff continue to run Prefab, Acme’s flagship café, roastery, bakery, event venue and testing ground. 

You’ve both been with Acme for a while now — what paths led to your current position? MW: I was working in another industry that paid really well, but made the move back into full-time barista work because I missed hospitality. I made natural moves through the roles, then was offered an opportunity to help design and build a café and roastery in Scotland. The owner and I lived in that store for four weeks, building, sanding and painting. I was given a lot of creative freedom and it was there that I became very interested in design, how things work and flow, and why we design things the way we do. All that has led to where I am now, contributing design insights and ideas to products I’ve been using for 20 years.
PK: I arrived at Acme when I returned to New Zealand after a couple of years in London and Spain. In London, I managed a team of baristas who made coffee at events, organised the logistics of shipping staff and espresso machines to different locations around Europe, and generally got stuff done to ensure the clients got their espresso coffee when they wanted it. I started at Acme with the idea that I had to get whatever needed doing done, and if I didn’t know how to do that, I’d find out. With my 20-plus years of experience in the industry and having held most roles in the café/roastery, I’ve come into the product-design side of the business with a broad knowledge of what our customers need when using a cup. 

ABOVE In terms of colour, Paddy says, “We always have a general idea of a colour we like, which could be inspired by anything from our backyards to the masthead of a magazine. We look at different tones of that colour and how it fits with the rest of the range. Colour glazes can look very different to what we have in our heads, so once we decide, we get samples made — and it’s usually then that we know if it’s good or not.”

Your days must be punctuated by good brews… MW: Oh yes! We’re lucky to have a La Marzocco Linea machine in the office, so because half of the staff are ex-baristas, one of us makes a round of flat whites for everyone in the mornings. Customers all over the world send us super-tasty varietals, so if we have a yummy filter bean offering, we make a pot of filter coffee. The rest of the day is a mixed bag, really.
PK: We do get quite competitive with our latte art! 

ABOVE Paddy says, “We design products that are needed and could be better, always with form and function in mind.”

What other tasks are the go day to day? MW: Acme’s a small company, which means you end up doing much more than what your email signature states, which we both enjoy. When an idea’s sparked, we all work together to refine it. Our desks are all banked together, so we like to discuss ideas and issues, and we also try to squeeze in an office game of ping-pong after lunch. 

What’s on the office playlist? PK: We have a Spotify account that we don’t give any love to, so we basically just listen to the same playlist every day, but I have been known to throw a curveball at the algorithm first thing in the morning and play some of the Hamilton soundtrack.

ABOVE On the topic of Acme’s flatware, Megan says, “We started making our teaspoons as the perfect wee friend for a cup and saucer. When it came to designing the full range, we’d been collecting ideas for years. My favorite knife is a bone-handled butter knife with a rounded top for spreading, Jeff had an old French spoon that he liked, and Paddy suggested the finer details like the serration on the knife and the shorter prongs on the fork. It was our first time designing packaging for retail, and after looking around, we were astounded by how much plastic is involved with cutlery packaging, so we brought in a specialist to help us design packaging that contains zero plastic, while keeping within our ‘functional and unadorned’ design ethos.”

To complement the cups that are synonymous with café culture worldwide, Acme’s offering has expanded to include a home range too… MW: When specialty-coffee fans started wanting to purchase the gear their favourite cafés used, they tended to want one or two cups, not our wholesale packs, so we slowly started to change how we sold our wares to different markets. Cafés usually top up their products every few years, so we need to make them available for extended periods of time, but selling to the home customer means we can do limited products, like the mugs we recently collaborated with Karen Walker on. We’re working towards ‘setting the table’, in the home and in the café.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Bonny Beattie

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