Pip and Tom Hay loved The Collingwood Children’s Farm. The two met as students, when they volunteered their weekends in the small freehold under the Abbotsford Convent, and later got married in the paddock.
And though, like the Hays, visitors adored the wide green stretch on a bend of the Yarra River, with its chickens and pig-wallow, visitors just weren’t visiting enough. The Farm, they were told, would likely close.
As a student of marketing, Tom lent a hand the only way he knew how: a focus group. He rounded up visitors and asked exactly what would make them visit more often. The answer was unequivocal.
“Look at a mother’s eyes, a person who hasn’t slept properly for years,” Tom advised. “You look at their pre-coffee persona and post-coffee persona. Their pre-coffee persona is certainly a hard, hard place to be at. If you don’t put coffee somewhere in Melbourne, then they’re not coming.”
So, in 2005, Tom convinced Pip to help him load a coffee machine into the back of a car, cook up some scones and man the trestle table. It was an unqualified success, bolstered by the Saturday traffic at the monthly farmers markets on the property.
“It was quite popular, and people were pretty excited by it,” Tom recalls modestly. “The good thing about Melbourne is that the community’s really supportive of things like that.”
In fact, their new [Farm Cafe]((http://www.broadsheet.com.au/melbourne/food-and-drink/directory/cafe/farm-cafe) was so successful that after a couple of months, they decided to serve coffee and cook up scones every weekend. “I hate scones now. I basically lived on scones for a year,” says Tom.
“We’ve still got scones on the menu,” smiles Pip. “But I don’t make them anymore.”
The Collingwood Children’s Farm made Pip and Tom an offer; while they couldn’t afford to pay them, they’d let them lease the venue. Pip had saved a sizable nest egg while completing her Masters in Project Management. Tom persuaded her to sink it into the cafe.
“I think it worked because I had a childhood dream of running a cafe,” recalls Pip. “And he played on that.”
With Pip’s savings of $10,000, and Tom’s inexhaustible work ethic, the couple whacked up a marquee and moved into the old dairy. They scanned for bargain fittings and cajoled their family into helping out when something blew up.
“Every week we’d buy something from eBay, and every week something from our crappy equipment would explode,” remembers Tom. “I’d never worked in hospitality before. We spent a lot of time learning the hard way.”
And while the pair agrees they only took the business on because no sensible businessperson would, people kept coming to The Farm Cafe.
Now, with a slick - though suitably rustic - renovation, Pip and Tom’s trestle-table-and-scone operation remains only in spirit. Chef Luke Eckersall, formerly head chef at Gertrude Street pizza sanctuary Ladro, serves up some pretty impressive cafe fare.
The menu includes dishes like cauliflower, quinoa, pickled carrot and poached eggs; while the perennial favourite is ‘Goat’s Toast’ - beetroot relish, feta, poached eggs and avocado on toast. Most delicious, however, is Eckersall’s mighty Ploughman’s Lunch: Dench bread, farm-made pickles, Berkshire Free-Range Ham from Gamekeepers, Mafra cheddar, crackling and, to keep it healthy, a Pink Lady apple.
So while things have certainly changed at The Farm Cafe, many things remain mercifully unchanged: a massive peacock leers down at what he considers his territory, a chicken scratches beneath one of the tables, and customers and staff admire the new farm dog - a golden Labrador. Their most recent addition to the team is a new mobile coffee truck, a coffee machine on the back of a Vintage 1963 Datsun Bluebird ute. Mostly used for catering at events, this little beauty was Tom’s excuse to buy a vintage car. “I’m only 31, but had to had to make this mid-life crisis purchase justifiable, so I put a coffee machine on the back and started serving Five Senses 24/7 blend like we do at the cafe.”
Back at the Farm though, things are heaving most days, particularly Saturday and Sunday when they can crank out hundreds of poached eggs to catering all-day breakfast orders. “It’s crazy but really cool,” says Tom. “There are so many people and families having what is probably the best moment of their weekend.”