It’s harder than you’d think to get specialty coffee on James Street.

According to Zac Lazarac, the reason for that is simple: the rental market in what’s arguably Brisbane’s premier food and fashion precinct is geared more towards restaurants, bars and fashion boutiques than coffee-focused cafes.

There are some great operators such as Bellissimo and Industry Beans a block or two away, and a couple of quality espresso nooks here and there (see Jamie’s Espresso and Cantinho), but there’s little on the main strip that’s taken the specialty coffee “bull by the horns,” Lazarac says.

Lazarac knows, because he tried himself. When he was first looking to establish a home for his now celebrated Salt Coffee Roasters, James Street was high on the list.

“I applied for so many different leases,” he says, laughing. “I got knocked back a million times and two or three of those were on James Street. I had this idea and they’d ask if I had any experience and I’d say no. And they’d just go with someone else.”

Back then, Lazarac was a hospitality newcomer, having spent his early professional life working as a stockbroker in Sydney. But since opening Salt on the corner of Commercial Road and Doggett Street in February last year, he’s built a reputation as one of Newstead’s best exponents of specialty coffee. Even with Covid-19 and the roadworks currently tearing up Commercial Road outside Salt’s handsome digs, the locals still rock up every day.

“It’s really nice,” he says. “You go through something like this and you think maybe we’re providing something that people care about. It’s been scary but you learn a lot about how to do things, what you do and the people behind you.”

Still, James Street never completely fell off his radar. And when punter-turned-friend Jordan Navybox mentioned that his buyer’s agency Cohen Handler was taking over an office space on the corner of McLachlan Street and the slick shopping complex that houses Gerard’s Bistro, Gerard’s Bar, Jardan, Gail Sorronda and many others, the two had soon hatched a plan for a second outlet for Salt Coffee Roasters.

Called Little Salt, the new Shaw & Keenan-designed space will open in October as a largely al fresco operation – there’ll be a crisp white coffee bar, a deck and a cactus-populated garden. The venue will be slanted towards takeaway but with a clutch of seats for those who want to stick around.

“It’s a three-metre bar designed to look like it’s been there forever,” Lazarac says. “There are a couple of tables, a three-seat bar at the end of the deck, and in the garden we’ve picked out four big boulders that will have tables attached. So there’s space for people to sit and have a chat.”

As you’ve probably guessed from the name, Little Salt will offer an abridged take on the menu at Salt a few blocks north. For coffee, there’ll be the house Julie blend for espresso, with single origins rotating through weekly on batch brew.

“We’ll also tinker around with some pour-overs,” Lazarac says. “We’ll do a bit of cold brew bottled up and ready to go. Anything we do at Salt we’ll try to mimic at Little Salt in terms of our mad-scientist approach.”

For food, Little Salt will sell Sprout Artisan Bakery baked goods, and there’ll be a rotating menu of grab-and-go sandwiches. The whole operation is designed to be lean, agile, and – at least in the beginning – coronavirus-appropriate.

“It’s what this is all about – going to a simpler model and offering what we do in a very concentrated form,” Lazarac says. “That’s what Little Salt is – a little version of our bigger self. It’s everything we do, but accessible in and around James Street.”

Little Salt will open at 117 McLachlan Street, Fortitude Valley on Friday October 16 with free coffee all day.