The new staff at Short Straw is busy memorising its customers’ names on Mary Street. “It’s a pretty long street,” says co-owner Hugh Hindle. “You have every neighbour come in once or twice a day, and you start to learn their kids’ names.”
It’s important, particularly given Hindle’s ambition to become a quintessentially “local” cafe. “I know that Melbourne isn’t in short supply of good cafes, but we’re not trying to lure people from very far away,” he explains. “We’re trying to be a good little local cafe that services the surrounding area.”
Short Straw’s ploys to lure in those locals are uncomplicated and likely effective. The two-room design, by young designer CJ Wright from KNOW SHOW Studio (ex-Techne Architecture), is heavy on American oak and skylights, with metalwork touches by I Am Not Mason’s Jason Blake. It’s airy and active, with discrete zones to hide out or hang with a group in.
Chef Josh Clark, formerly of Young Bloods in Fitzroy, has cooked up a menu that aims for broad appeal. The Early Board covers all bases, with its tiny bircher muesli, a fan of avocado, swirl of crisp pancetta and some soldiers and egg. Vegetarians might be moved by a handsome asparagus, poached egg, roast tomato, zucchini and feta arrangement. Those throwing caution to the wind can order the Classic Burger with Victorian beef, pickle, cos, tomato, mustard, mayo and Monterey Jack on a brioche bun, served with a side of potato gems dusted with ancho salt (made from a kind of chilli).
Given Hindle’s advancing years (he’s 31, he tells us), it was important the place be anklebiter-accessible. Pancakes with maple syrup and berries are a good bet, as is egg and bacon on toast. “It’s probably showing our age, but we’re starting to be more concerned with being kid-friendly,” he says.
The coffee takes things back to basics. A darker Niccolo blend is intended for milky coffee, and there’s a rotating single origin, too. With 90 per cent of patrons still drinking latte, it’s good sense. “What I find with a lot of places is they try and get a blend that does well over black coffee and milk coffee and it just does both pretty poorly,” says Hindle. “Not everyone’s doing crazy things and really carrying on about it like they were two or three years ago. The tried and tested thing with Niccolo is that it works best with milk.”
Sure, it’s a tried-and-true approach. But if Short Straw’s partners have shown us anything (Hindle, Steve Rowley and Matt Vero, have collectively brought us Homeslice Pizza, Coin Laundry, Station Street Trading, Tall Timber, Touchwood, Marquis of Lorne and Rustica Canteen), it’s that they’ve got form. “It has worked for us in the past, and I don’t want to go off and muddy the water,” says Hindle. “We’re just going to do breakfast and coffee as best we can.”