“I have a son with some learning difficulties, so I’m often on Google searching for the best employment opportunities for him,” says Chris Lombardo, executive officer at The Bridge, a not-for-profit that offers vocational training, childcare and other community services in Preston and Thornbury. “I stumbled across Bitty and Beau’s – a cafe in the States that provides practical hospitality training for a disadvantaged community – and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, if I could do something similar here with The Bridge, I’d retire a happy woman’.”

Moon Rabbit opened earlier this month at the front of The Bridge’s headquarters in Preston. It sells jaffles, house-made slices and Padre coffee. It’s also environmentally responsible and supports the local community.

The cafe trains young people with learning and other disabilities. A 26-week pilot program sees six students rotate through one- to two-hour shifts that complement the classroom training they get at The Bridge.

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“One young man initially was very reserved coming into the program and his dad was concerned he wouldn’t stay engaged,” Lombardo says. “So far he hasn’t missed a day. He’s removed his beanie, is standing tall and after his first shift he wouldn’t stop talking.”

The kitchen and indoor area are tiny, so the menu has been kept simple. It’s
vegetarian-, vegan- and halal-friendly, and only two of the seven jaffles contain meat. The Lambo has spiced Moroccan lamb, sweet-potato hummus, lemon zest and feta. It’s the favourite so far, followed by the coffee-soaked French-toast jaffle with caramelised banana, berry coulis and Nutella.

Cakes and slices are baked daily, using recipes from Lombardo’s grandma. Expect hedgehog, caramel and lemon slices; gluten-free Florentines; and other Country Women’s Association cookbook classics.

All takeaway food is served in paper bags, cardboard boxes or glass jars. Reusable Moon Rabbit cups are available to buy, and large takeaway coffee orders are transported in stiff-bottom reusable cloth bags, like a smaller version of those you’d find at a supermarket. Customers are also encouraged to bring their own mugs or donate an old one, much like at Brunswick’s Handsome Her.

The cafe has transformed the facade of and entrance to The Bridge, which used to be overgrown with weeds. Now, it’s an inviting outdoor oasis with 35 seats and different nooks. There are planter boxes made from recycled pallets and a synthetic turf lounge with cushions.

“I’d say we get over 1800 people coming through our premise every week and now it’s this lovely, calming green space that’s also off the footpath,” Lombardo says.

For more cafes like Moon Rabbit, see our guide to Social Enterprises in Melbourne.

Moon Rabbit
218 High Street, Preston
(03) 9484 5806

Mon to Fri 7.30am–2pm