Perhaps the only thing left was to take their talent overseas. Specifically, to Los Angeles. In eight weeks, Sanceau and Shearston will throw open the doors on Pollen, a new eatery in the city’s Echo Park district. In the Elysian neighbourhood, it’s taking over a tenancy formerly occupied by Fix Coffee, a popular LA coffee shop.
The move has come somewhat out of the blue for Sanceau and Shearston’s HappyFat Group, which up until recently had designs on opening a new restaurant on King Street in Bowen Hills. But Sanceau says he’s been keeping an eye on the coffee scene in Los Angeles for the last few years.
“Generally, coffee in the States is appalling,” he says. “I’d been looking at maybe doing something over there with a Brisbane guy who owns a bunch of places.”
That didn’t happen, and HappyFat refocused its attention on Brisbane for a couple of years, selling Public and London Fields (Canvas was sold to current owners Bodie Schofield and Dan Rodriguez back in 2013), while looking at other opportunities in Hong Kong and Shanghai (Sanceau says they were “very close” to establishing a second Red Hook in Shanghai, but ultimately decided against the move).
Things changed when Shearston was seconded to Los Angeles for a bar consulting gig at the start of this year. “She fell in love with the place,” Sanceau says. “I then went over three months ago with Bonnie and we were talking to some people and all of a sudden we were presented with this opportunity.”
Sanceau and Shearston inspected the site and found a restaurant and coffee shop “ready to go”, Sanceau says. “All it needed was a lick of paint. The deal was pretty amazing so we said, ‘Let’s do this’.”
Sanceau says the intention with Pollen is to take a bit of Australian cafe culture to Los Angeles. The venue will start with coffee, breakfast and lunch, and begin to open for evenings once a liquor licence is approved. “It will hopefully be a bit like Corner Store Cafe crossed with Sourced crossed with Melbourne’s Higher Ground – taking the best of Australian breakfast to Los Angeles,” he says.
With that in mind, Sanceau has been busy taking beekeeping courses with Bee One Third’s Jack Wilson Stone. “We’ll want to do rooftop honey,” he says. “We should be able to do that on top of the kitchen.”
Heading up the kitchen is Canberra-raised chef Alison Trent, formerly of Providence, Bouchon Beverly Hills and The French Laundry. Coffee will come from Jetty Coffee, a local roastery that established its commercial operation earlier this year.
Sanceau likens working on the fit-out to when they transformed a Groove Train restaurant into what would become Public. “It has that same burnt orange feel; it feels quite student-y,” he says. “One of our really good friends over there is a landscape gardener – he’s going to put all these olive trees in for next to nothing.”
Going forward, Shearston will be based in Los Angeles with Sanceau commuting regularly between Australia and the United States.
Sanceau talks about Los Angeles as being an “incredible place” that a lot of Australians have ignored, distracted by New York. But there are also more practical concerns behind the move – one of which is what he sees as Brisbane’s overstuffed restaurant market.
“It’s just numbers through the door,” he says. “There’s [19 million] people in the [greater metropolitan area of] LA. That’s not far off Australia’s population.
“Over the last few years in Brisbane, so many venues have opened and we don’t have that population,” Sanceau continues. “For restaurants to make a decent profit they need to be busy all the time. I hope it’s not, but it feels like a ticking time bomb … I think a lot of industry people here are waiting to see how we go.”
Not that HappyFat is turning its back on the Queensland capital. “We still want to do something here,” he says. “Our success here has given us the balls to go and give it a go … there’s some great stuff going on in Brisbane and I hope it continues.”
2100 Echo Park Avenue, Los Angeles