The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Scaling Up A Local Café

Most mornings of the week I walk to my local, and favourite, café. Many of the other coffee drinkers (some may say addicts) I know by name and a little about them. As I sit and drink my latte I notice that there are a lot of these friendly interactions. People meet and greet others they know. A large number of them have walked to the café. It is the epitome of local.

Those who take our orders and serve the coffee, and the baristas, are also known by name. And they know our names. Once I asked one of the baristas how many individual coffee preferences she knew from memory. “About fifty,” she replied. It is a friendly atmosphere. I have never witnessed an angry exchange between anyone there. The owner of the café encourages friendliness. A couple of years ago I asked her about what was important to her at the café. Without hesitation she replied, “To make people happy.”

And people are. There are significantly more smiles and happy faces than there are grimaces or scowls. Sure, I’ve had conversations with some there who felt depressed or anxious. Did having conversations with them assist them? I don’t know. Yet, they have turned up at the café for their coffee and have met with others from the locality who have listened.

Furthermore, I have been part of, and overheard, the occasional conversation over coffee revolving around politics, religion, philosophy, and psychology. Sometimes even conversations about climate change, the state of the world, and environmental collapse. Yet, in none of these conversations have I witnessed expressions of anger, judgment, or condemnation.

Bigger Cafés?

Recently, as I sat sipping my coffee, I wondered if it were possible to scale up this café? I realised that I had to answer that with a No! or, at least, a probably not.

When I look at the world and larger groupings of human beings, it does not seem possible for the considered and respectful conversations at my local café to take place. Whether the group be the residents of a large city, the citizens of a nation, or the entire population of the Earth, something breaks down in the way in which we engage with one another at larger scales.

At bigger scales, conversations become debates (literally meaning to beat down) and involve accusations, finger-pointing, and ad hominem attacks. Taken to extreme, these debates become polarising, violent, and, at an international level, often descend into war.

This subjective observation of mine has been explored by a number of social scientists over the past few decades. Most well known of these researchers is Robin Dunbar who found a correlation between primate brain size and optimal social group size in the 1990s. Extrapolating to humans, Dunbar proposed that humans can comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships. This number (150) became known as Dunbar’s Number. Since then various researchers have critiqued Dunbar’s proposal, including Dunbar himself.

Rather than the precise number of 150, the range of human relationships in which individuals are able to have some meaningful connection with ranges from about 5 up to around 1,500. These relationships become nested within each, with the quality of the relationship varying with size.

Small Is Beautiful

More than 50 years ago the German born economist, E F Schumacher, wrote the classic book, Small Is Beautiful, in which he described the virtues of small-scale farming, technology, land use, village size and other elements of social and political human economics and ecology.1 Schumacher noted that,

‘Today, we suffer from an almost universal idolatry of gigantism. It is therefore necessary to insist on the virtues of smallness.’  And then, a few pages later, ‘People can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups.’

That was over fifty years ago. Schumacher’s observation and warning is even more trenchant today. Re-reading Schumacher’s book today in conjunction with my observations at my local café I am certain that we must seek ways to down-size and localise all aspects of human endeavour as quickly as possible.

My local café seats about 20 people indoors and up to about 30 outdoors. Most of the regulars live within a 2 km radius of the café. It is one of the friendliest cafés I know.

Scaling it up would lose all that friendliness and sense of community.


1. E F Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, Blond & Briggs, London, 1973.


  1. Nicely written Bruce. I think I know which cafe you frequent, down near the harbour. When I read your heading I thought you must have recently been the victim of a favourite cafe that had somehow 'grown'. Not so, apparently, thank goodness. Sadly my best 'local' here in Bendigo, VIC has recently shutdown. It was called the GoodLoaf Sourdough Bakery. All the finest misfits, philosphers, environment protectors, artists and the like came here for their coffee and bread. But the owner of the old premises, a repurposed tyre fittling workshop + ourdoor space, a Melbourne property investor kept putting the rent up. After the latest attempt to bump the rent again Laurie, the cafe proprietor couldn't come to a suitable agreement and had to shut down. The property is now up for sale and could easily become 4 to 6 new apartments. I can't find any other coffee shop that has anything like the feeling of this one, much like the one you describe. We patrons should have banded together to do something/anything to help Laurie keep it open. Cheers, David

    1. I feel for you David. First, yes you are correct in your guess as to the location of my local cafe. As to the situation with your cafe I commiserate. Something similar is going to befall mine. The owner of the building will not renew the lease when it comes up and has increased the rent in an attempt to force the cafe owner out earlier. The reason? So he can install his son as a cafe owner!!!! Maybe we (the regulars) should do something like as you suggest. I like how you talk about the "feel" of the cafe - that is so important isn't it? Thank you for your comment. Best wishes with finding a feel-good cafe.


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