On the list of cool places to open a cafe, a retirement building is at the wrong end. But if you know what you’re doing – and the couple behind the newly opened Providence does – it doesn’t really matter.

Michael and Eleena Tan run a hospitality consulting business, Brand/Works, and part-own Hero Subs and The Grain Store. It was at this latter spot that they caught the eye of staff from Australian Unity, which owns the aged-living complex Providence now occupies the ground floor of.

The duo’s experience shines clearly through the 80-seat space, which is decorated with bentwood chairs and playful portraits of fruit and veg. On another wall, a framed print lists what’s currently in season. This pretty much sums up Providence, which has an admirable dedication to fresh food and small producers.

The kitchen uses organic bacon from Gamze Smallgoods, avocados grown by Barham, ice cream churned by Gundowring, and organic olive oil from Cockatoo Grove, which the founder of Cobram Estate started after his first business became too industrialised for his liking.

Chef Cate Hardman (ex-Sarti) hasn’t created a static lunch menu. “She wants to be able to make anything she feels like on the day, in line with the season and what’s available,” Eleena says.

Breakfast (until 3pm) is more consistent, offering granola and porridge alongside dishes such as berry clafoutis with rose water and bitey rhubarb ice cream; a clever salad using avocado and ham hock; and pumpkin and lentil fritters. For those in a hurry, the Shelf of Plenty displays Dr Marty’s crumpets, toasties, brioche and other baked goods, while Code Black supplies the coffee.

Sound like a bland retirement village cafe? No, we don’t think so either. Still, expect an older crowd. “Australian Unity wanted us to create a sense of community,” Tan says. “I see little grandkids and their parents coming to visit, and the cafe makes such a big difference to how they interact with residents. Otherwise, they’d just be in their room upstairs.”

497 Rathdowne Street, Carlton
(03) 9240 7055

Mon to Sat 7am-4pm
Sun 8.30am-4pm