Brothers Kael and Matt Sahely are well-practiced at opening Melbourne cafes. They’re responsible for some of the city’s most popular breakfast spots of the last half decade, including Richmond’s Pillar of Salt; Barry in Northcote; the expansive, bright Touchwood on Bridge Road; and BAWA in Hawthorn. Then there was East Melbourne’s intimate Square and Compass.
Their latest opening, with new partners Jimmy Tjoeng and Julian Bedford, presented them with a different kind of challenge – Vacation is the smallest venue they’ve ever opened.
“We need to be smart about what we produce in here – this site came up and it’s 70-metres-square and we didn’t really want to turn our backs on it,” Kael Sahely says. “We took it and we had to change what we wanted to do.”
Vacation is on the ground floor of a historic building on the corner of Flinders and Exhibition Streets. The space formerly housed a Chinese restaurant, which had blocked up the windows and artificially lowered the ceiling.
“The design [challenge] was in making the space as light-filled as possible and getting as much exposure from the street as possible – it was a bit of a process,” Kael says.
After an eight-and-a-half-week build overseen by Alex Lake of design firm Therefore, the windows have been revealed and reframed, and the ceiling returned to its original eight-metre height. This loftiness gives the 10-seater cafe an impression of space that punches well above its actual square meterage.
That’s amplified by the fit-out: a love-letter to mid-century modernism and ’80s pastels; and the branding, from local design firm The Company You Keep. Mint-green teak seats sit with custom-made steel benches and tables, painted in pale pink.
“It’s very Miami-Vice-y,” Kael says “It’s that vacation vibe. I don’t think the original plan was for it to be so Florida-style, but it just sort of shook out that way.”
Vacation roasts its own coffee at Bureaux Collective but delivers it without self-importance, says Kael.
“The idea of Vacation is just a bit of fun, not super serious, we’re not strict in the way you drink your coffee or the way it should be drunk.”
The food is similarly pared back and focuses on high quality ingredients and low costs to appeal to city workers. The cafe opens at 6.30am. For breakfast there’s toast and mueslis, and for lunch, hearty toasted sandwiches with meat from Meatsmith. On the weekend a limited food menu is served.
Speaking of limits, Kael has come around to the idiosyncrasies of the space.
“A lot of these smaller places in the city have low, dark ceilings, they’re all at the base of buildings, so generally the ceiling height is no more than three metres,” he says. “We have eight metres and it’s almost always sunny – it’s a nice feeling.”
1 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Mon to Fri 6.30am–4pm
Sat & Sun 8am–2pm