Culture on cafe queen's menu

Kate Emery

Patria Jafferies, the woman who did more to shape Perth's coffee culture than anyone, believes WA still has a long way to go to be what it could be.

But the Dome Coffees Australia co-founder and Celebrate WA boss, who once agonised over whether Perth people would pay $1.80 for a coffee, said the State was going the right way.

Speaking to The Weekend West on the 10th anniversary of the $20 million sale of Dome, Ms Jafferies said WA had suffered a "brain drain" for many years.

People often returned for lifestyle or family reasons but WA must continue to mature to retain top talent.

"As a State strategically we need to understand how we make that mix work and I think we're doing it, we're finally doing it, but to keep good people here you have to have the right social fabric and I think we have a long way to go," she said.

"Still, it's changed. In the first year I was here in '86 I remember going into (Matilda Bay Brewing Company and Dome co-founder) Phil Sexton's office and saying, 'Phil, I need a couple of days off'.

"I drove myself to the airport, I jumped on a plane and I went to Melbourne. I called a friend in Melbourne and said, 'Hi, I'm at the airport, I'm here for two days'. I just needed some culture because at that point in time coming out of San Francisco and into Perth it was a cultural desert.

"We have so many great things happening now. I've seen the revolution and I think we need to invest in that to keep good people here - we're doing it slowly."

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Dome founder Patria Jafferies, right, at her Cottesloe cafe with artist Anneli Shorter.

Dome opened its first cafe in Cottesloe in 1991 with the aim of bringing a European-style coffee culture to Perth.

It was a time when WA was largely a State of instant coffee drinkers and long before debates about the price of coffee in Perth. Ms Jafferies recalls a "huge debate" about charging $1.80 a cup.

The business took off and when Ms Jafferies and business partner Phil May sold it to a team of Dome executives backed by private equity in December 2003, Dome had about 100 outlets in nine countries. Mr Sexton had sold out years earlier.

A decade on, Ms Jafferies still smiles when she walks past a Dome cafe.

"I think we changed the drinking habits and opened up opportunities for other traders to come in and compete with Dome, which is a helpful thing because people then either raise their benchmark or they go down a different avenue," she said.

Dome founders Patria Jafferies and Phil May in May, 1993.

The Dome experience is one reason Ms Jafferies is confident the economic slowdown will not derail Perth's cultural, social and physical evolution.

"We opened the first outlet when interest rates were 17 per cent and everyone thought we were crazy," she said.

"You can't think about just tomorrow but what's going to roll out in the next three, five, 10 years. What's the infrastructure we need in this amazing State to keep people here?"

What does concern her is what she sees as an over-reliance on government to drive development.

"I think we talk about a lot of things and it takes far too long to develop and then the costs blow out tenfold," she said.

"As a country, Australia relies so heavily on government infrastructure rather than private enterprise and I think that's the mindset of our culture."

Leaving a legacy is important to Ms Jafferies and one of the reasons she took on the chief executive role at Celebrate WA.

Plans are afoot to make the rebranded WA Day celebrations bigger, including a regional art project.

Nearly three decades after leaving her Californian home, Ms Jafferies retains an American twang in her accent but considers herself an Australian. She said West Australians were learning to be more proud of their State and she hoped to play a role in that.

"It excites me because I've been here 27 years and the next part of it is leaving the cultural side of Western Australia in a healthier place," she said. "It's about being proud of who we are in this State and what we've achieved."