Horse to Water is a nod to the fickle hospitality business. Because as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

“All we can do each day is open the front door, present ourselves, and fulfil the promise of meeting or exceeding the customers’ expectations. From there it’s really up to them,” says owner Eamon Sheahan. “They vote with their feet.”

Sheahan has run many cafes, including Miss Frank, Volley, Espresso 3121, Boy & Co and Age of Sail. But Horse to Water is the only one currently on his plate, with a few more in the pipeline.

Increasingly, he’s moving away from the full-service cafe model, back to his espresso bar roots. “I’m finding Melbourne completely saturated,” he says. “Never has Melbourne been so spoilt for choice with places to go and eat, seven days a week … I really think people are more loyal to their coffee than they are to their food.”

When visiting a family member in Epworth Hospital, Sheahan noticed that aside from Fifty Acres, there wasn’t much at that end of what used to be one of Melbourne’s best retail strips. The idea was born to serve hospital staff and visitors, keeping the coffee brewing until 7pm.

Barista Jordan Faulkner (ex-Miss Frank, Age of Sail) works with beans from Veneziano, which Sheahan has a long-standing relationship with. Aside from the usual espresso drinks, he’s making bottled iced coffee and virgin gingers (espresso and ginger beer on ice).

Most enticingly, Horse to Water offers bottomless filter coffee for a one-off fee. “For the day [customers] can come back and refill that cup of filtered coffee as often as they like,” Sheahan says. “They can get their first one at 7am and their last one at 4pm if they want.”

Food-wise, he’s kept it simple, with what he calls “coffee complementary food”. There’s a gruyere-packed toasted sandwich; Reuben on rye; triple stacked BLT; and a panko-crumbed chicken schnitzel roll with lettuce and kewpie mayo. The counter sweets are courtesy of Dench Bakers and include a vegan slice, gluten-free brownie and caramel slice with Anzac biscuit crumb.

The sleek design follows the rule of form and function with eight tables of two, created by Sheahan’s go-to interior firm, Hecker Guthrie. “I like the way they work: the simplicity of their ideas but also the execution and detail,” he says. “I’m about timeless sophistication and they just achieve that every time. They’ve always hit the mark with me.”

For more coffee and food in the area, see our Guide to Richmond’s Best Cafes.

Horse to Water
104 Bridge Road, Richmond
(03) 9078 1088

Mon to Fri 6am–7pm